How injuries change our brain and how we can help it recover


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New brain cells can form after injury.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Michael O’Sullivan, The University of Queensland

This is part of our series on Changing the Brain, about what’s happening in our brain in various mental states and how we can change it for the better and worse. You can read the other articles here.


Injury to the adult brain is all too common. A brain injury will often show up on brain scans as a well-defined area of damage. But often the changes to the brain extend far beyond the visible injury.

Changes in the brain also continue to evolve for many months after injury. Part of this is simply the clearing away of debris by a normal healing process (for example, the clearance of bruising in the brain after a concussion). And there are things we can do to aid our brain’s recovery.




Read more:
Mind-bending drugs and devices: can they make us smarter?


The most common cause of brain injury is stroke, which can be caused both by bleeding into the brain and by a lack of blood supply when an artery becomes blocked. A significant proportion of all strokes occur in young adults and, unlike other types of stroke, the incidence of stroke in young adults is not falling.

Another common type of brain injury is traumatic brain injury, which occurs when an external force damages the brain.

Concussions, a form of mild traumatic brain injury, are receiving increased scrutiny from sporting codes, doctors, and researchers as their possible long-term impacts come to light. Concussions result from force or impact to the skull or body, causing damage as the brain is compressed or stretched within the skull.




Read more:
Explainer: what is traumatic brain injury?


Other injuries to the brain may also be caused by toxins, such as drugs and alcohol, tumours, infections by viruses or bacteria that lead to inflammation and injury, and degenerative brain disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Restoring the brain

One very important research question is whether longer term changes that occur after brain injury are helping to restore function after damage, or are harming prospects for recovery. Can we influence the wide-ranging changes that occur in the months after injury to improve recovery?

There are many possible changes that could occur in the brain that might help to improve recovery. These adaptations can apply to a range of problems that occur after injury, such as difficulty with speech or language after stroke, or poor memory, poor concentration or poor balance after concussion.

Restoration can include the creation of replacement nerve fibres or nerve cells (regeneration) but also other types of adaptation that restore function after injury.




Read more:
Why that cigarette, chocolate bar, or new handbag feels so good: how pleasure affects our brain


After traumatic brain injury brain regions can pick up the slack for regions of the brain that have been damaged.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

One example of changes in the brain that might help restore function is change in the structure of the white matter, or wiring of the brain. Previous research in my laboratory found in people with a memory system that had deteriorated (people with a disorder called mild cognitive impairment), alternative connections can pick up the load and help to compensate for damage.

We don’t yet know whether the white matter fibres actually change after the injury, or whether they always had this reserve capacity. But we do know white matter pathways change in response to learning new skills, such as juggling or memory training.

So it seems possible that as people re-learn a skill after injury, such as walking, talking or even mental arithmetic, the relevant white matter connections become stronger to support recovery.

Creating new brain cells

Another way function may be restored is through the creation of entirely new nerve cells. These new cells could help by replacing the function of nerve cells lost or damaged after stroke. Or they might bolster the function of surviving brain regions that can compensate for loss of nerve cells elsewhere.




Read more:
We can change our brain and its ability to cope with disease with simple lifestyle choices


In our younger years, the production of new nerve cells is common, but as we get older this ability is reduced. Finding ways to reactivate this process could lead to new treatments following a brain injury.

Another form of adaptation to restore function after injury is the strengthening of pre-existing circuits that were in use prior to the injury, thereby restoring them to their former level of performance.

This strengthening can happen as a natural result of learning, explaining why training lost skills or functions is an effective way of recovering them. For example, elite rugby union players who suffer concussion often find they have to go through a period of re-sharpening their ball and positional skills as they return to play after injury. This is an example of changing our brains in a positive way to promote recovery.

The ConversationThe brain is flexible and adaptable and remains so throughout adult life. Now we just have to figure out how best to harness its plasticity when things go wrong.

Michael O’Sullivan, Professor, Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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We asked five experts: is walking enough exercise?



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I love to go a-wandering.
Lacey Raper/Unsplash

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

We humans need to exercise in order to stay healthy. Exercise protects against disease and early death, and keeps us mobile and able to perform daily tasks.

Walking is an easy, free and enjoyable form of exercise. But is a nice stroll enough to confer the life-saving benefits we know come from exercise?

We posed this question to five specialists in the field.

Four out of five experts said yes

The ConversationHere are their detailed responses:

https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/253/ace6516dfa6fd8ca9783f45be5f1d84d433be7f9/site/index.html

Alexandra Hansen, Section Editor: Health + Medicine, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

I’m not overweight, so why do I need to eat healthy foods?



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No, being thin doesn’t mean you can live off junk food.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alessandro R Demaio, University of Copenhagen

We all have that one friend whose eating habits and body shape simply don’t add up. While enjoying the unhealthiest of meals and a sedentary lifestyle, somehow they effortlessly retain a slender figure.

At first glance we may assume these slim people are healthy, but it’s not always the case. So if you don’t have weight to worry about, what’s the impetus for avoiding sweet or salty temptations and eating good, nutritious foods instead?

Healthy weight ≠ good health

Body mass index or BMI, the tool most often used to determine “healthy weight ranges”, was designed primarily to track the weight of populations.

While it’s a simple and useful screening tool when looking at groups of people, it’s not a good marker of individual health. This is because BMI is a measure of our height and our weight, and the ratios of their combination. But weight alone doesn’t discriminate between a kilogram of fat versus a kilogram of muscle nor does it account for body shape and fat distribution differences relating to, say, ethnicity or gender.




Read more:
Viewpoints: can you be healthy at any weight?


Just as not all obese individuals have heart disease risk factors or unhealthy metabolisms (the conversion of food into energy), nor do all lean people have healthy ones.

There’s a well-documented subset of people known as metabolically obese, normal weight individuals. These people are not obese as determined by their height and weight, but may face metabolic dysfunction such as insulin resistance (which leads to a build-up of sugar in the blood), and like their physically obese counterparts are predisposed to type 2 diabetes, high levels of fats in the blood, heart disease and even some cancers.

Food is health

The most compelling reason to eat healthy foods is the correlation between good nutrition and well-being. Coupled with regular exercise, eating a diet rich in whole foods and grains, healthy oils and low in sugar and salt, has been shown to convey a number of benefits. These include a longer life with less pain and suffering, less risk of back pain or muscular problems and even an increased libido.




Read more:
We all have to die of something, so why bother being healthy?


Studies from around the world also show people with healthy diets are less likely to experience depression while unhealthy diets may put individuals at an increased risk of depression.

People with nutritious diets are less likely to be depressed.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Food has been identified as an important risk factor for cognitive decline and dementia in older age.

A healthy diet combined with physical activity can strengthen bones and reduce body aches and pains. And these benefits are conferred irrespective of your baseline weight or age.

Health risks aren’t always visible

While it might be easy to take solace in a thinner weight, many of the serious health risks associated with poorer diet are often hidden from plain sight.

Excessive salt consumption can cause the kidneys to hold on to more water, resulting in an increase in blood pressure. High blood pressure strains the arteries that supply blood to our vital organs including our heart and brain, and increases our risk of stroke, dementia, heart attack and kidney disease.

Consumption of high amounts of sugar, especially from sugar sweetened beverages, is associated with an increased risk in fatty liver disease, among many other health problems. This in turn significantly increases our risk of liver scarring, heart disease and stroke.

Recent research has also reconfirmed a link between bowel cancer and red meat consumption. Processed meats such as ham, bacon and salami appear to be especially problematic.

Not only can all of these occur without any visual cues, but they can also develop irrespective of our weight.

Our kids’ health

The importance of a good diet is not just limited to our own health. Children of parents with poor diets are significantly more likely to inherit similarly unhealthy eating habits.

And it doesn’t stop there. Through a mechanism called epigenetics, our health and our diet can result in alterations to the expression of our genes.

We pass our habits on to our kids. Make them good ones.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Animal studies have shown epigenetic changes resulting from poor diet (and other stressors) can influence the healthiness of future generations. Many scientists now believe the same will prove true for humans too.




Read more:
Childhood obesity: are parents really to blame?


Saving lives, and money

Contrary to what many of us think, the latest evidence suggests eating a healthy diet is actually cheaper than consuming the unhealthy foods that now dominate many Australian households.

Analysis of both wealthier and poorer suburbs in Brisbane, for example, showed the average family of four spends 18% more on current diets than would be required if they could more closely adhere to healthy dietary recommendations.

This is not to say eating healthily is easy, accessible or even possible for everyone, but might be more possible than we first think.

Not only would adopting a healthy diet be a beneficial investment for individuals and families, it might also go a long way to curbing the major societal costs from growing weight gain. The annual costs from obesity already add up to A$830 million in Australia alone.

The consequences of poor diet increasingly burden Australians and our health care system. While it’s easy to measure our health based on a reading of the bathroom scales, eating a diverse and nutritious diet will bring overwhelming benefits to everyone – regardless of our current weight.


The ConversationThomas Goodwin contributed to the research and writing of this article.

Alessandro R Demaio, Australian Medical Doctor; Fellow in Global Health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to keep school lunches safe in the heat



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Keep it cool.
Shutterstock/bitt24

Vincent Ho, Western Sydney University


This article is part of a series that draws on the latest research on back to school transitions. In it, experts explain how best to prepare children for school, and counter difficulties such as stress or bad behaviour.


The school holidays are over but summer isn’t, and we’re bound to have more hot days before the season ends. So how can you avoid making yourself or your kids sick when packing picnics or school lunches in the heat?

The good news is that the bacteria that cause food to spoil are quite different to the bacteria that typically cause food poisoning, and generally don’t make you sick.

But harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning can still end up in lunchboxes and picnics. Controlling the temperature of the food can help minimise the chance of getting sick, or the severity of any food-borne illness.

Food poisoning and spoiling

When left out in the heat, foods such as meat, cheese, fish and milk will spoil and start to smell because of bacteria such as Pseudomonas. But while it’s certainly not a good idea for your child to nibble on spoiled foods, such bacteria don’t usually result in gastrointestinal symptoms.




Read more:
Salmonella in your salad: the cost of convenience?


On the other hand, more than four million Australians get food poisoning each year. The bacteria responsible for the majority of cases – Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and Listeria– usually come from animal faeces and soil. They don’t change the appearance, smell or taste of food.

The contaminated food can cause symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and chills as soon as 30 minutes after ingestion.

The cause of a specific food poisoning case can be hard to determine. Often the contaminated food is completely consumed and mild cases of diarrhoea can easily be caused by exposure to irritants such as gluten or lactose, as by a toxin, bacteria or virus. It’s usually only when multiple people eating the same food get sick that the source is traced and investigated.

Bacteria flourish in the heat

As with almost any kind of infection, contact with disease-causing bacteria doesn’t inevitably result in disease. We regularly handle a low level of bacterial contamination in the foods we eat without coming to harm. A gram of fresh tofu may contain from 300 to 100,000 bacteria and fermented foods such as miso or yoghurt may contain millions of bacteria per gram.

The number of bacteria in contaminated food is important: a person ingesting a higher amount of virulent bacteria is more likely to fall ill than someone ingesting a much smaller amount. The type of bacteria is also important, as more virulent strains can lead to illness in lower doses.

Yoghurt can contain millions of bacteria per gram.
Upupa4me, CC BY-SA

These bacteria flourish in a zone between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius – known as the temperature “danger zone” – where bacterial reproduction is most rapid.

In the summer heat, the doubling time of bacteria can be as short as 20 minutes. This means a thin slice of a well-washed tomato with 100 bacteria at 8am could contain just over 26 million bacteria by 2pm on the same day.

Storing foods outside the temperature danger zone can dramatically slow the rate at which bacteria can multiply. This is why cold food should be kept below 5 degrees Celsius and hot foods above 60 degrees.




Read more:
Monday’s medical myth: leave leftovers to cool before refrigerating


What can you do?

There are four key steps to safely preparing food:

1) Wash your hands thoroughly before handling food. Use clean utensils and cutting boards

2) Use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat or poultry to reduce the risk of Salmonella

3) Cook food to the right temperature using a food thermometer

4) Chill perishable foods such as meats, eggs, cheese or yoghurt with at least two cold sources, such as freezer packs, to keep harmful bacteria from multiplying rapidly. Frozen juice poppers can also be used as freezer packs and by lunchtime should be thawed and ready to drink.

An insulated lunchbox should be used for packing perishable foods. Insulated containers such as thermos flasks can also be used to store hot soups and stews.
When packing a child’s lunch the night before, store the food in the refrigerator overnight, so it stays colder for longer.

Finally, teach children to wash their hands with soapy water for 20 seconds before eating. Or pack disposable wipes so they can easily clean their hands before and after eating.




Read more:
Monday’s medical myth: you have to wash with hot water to kill bugs


Getting sick

Despite parents’ best efforts, food poisoning can occur. When it does, oral rehydration is the cornerstone of treatment. You can buy a rehydrating solution of sugar, salt and water from most pharmacists. Or make your own by adding half a level teaspoon of salt and six level teaspoons of sugar dissolved in one litre of clean drinking or boiled water.

A bland diet for a short period of time can be helpful in recovery.

The ConversationFor severe symptoms or for any concerns about your child’s recovery, see your GP.

Vincent Ho, Senior Lecturer and clinical academic gastroenterologist, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why the difficult person at work probably isn’t a psychopath



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Our workplace and work processes may be contributing to stress and bad behaviour.
shutterstock

Katarina Fritzon; Joanna Wilde, Aston University, and Rosalind Searle, University of Glasgow

As workplaces become increasingly difficult and damaging environments, there are plenty of articles and books on dealing with “psychopaths” among your colleagues.

But psychopathy is heavily contested as a diagnostic category. And labelling a coworker a psychopath fails to account for how our workplaces can encourage bad behaviour.

From an “always on” work culture to badly designed work practices, there are many reasons why a colleague could be behaving badly. This is partly why clinicians are prohibited from diagnosing someone from afar – there may be many other factors influencing the behaviour.




Read more:
Psychopaths versus sociopaths: what is the difference?


The research on criminal psychopathy is based on thousands of cases and involves statistical prediction of future actions based on these cases. The articles that set out how to tell if your boss is a psychopath simply do not have the same evidence base.

Of the 20 criteria used to assess criminal psychopathy, many do not translate to the workplace (other measures have not been tested in work environments either).

What about the workplace?

As we have seen in recent sexual harassment scandals in media and politics, when workplaces don’t punish employees for unacceptable or harmful behaviour it gives tacit permission, in effect encouraging it to continue.

Individuals behaving badly are often oblivious to the impact they are having, and so without proper sanctions and containment remain unaware of the need to self-correct. But there are also specific aspects of our workplaces that may contribute to such problematic behaviour.

People’s personalities aren’t fixed, which means that some human resources tools, such as testing for “emotional intelligence” (also known as EQ), may actually incentivise people to become more skilful at manipulating others’ emotions.

If someone is hired or promoted because they are very good at impression management and manipulation, they are likely to be very effective at making their managers believe they are doing a good job while also bullying their peers and subordinates.




Read more:
Emotionally intelligent employees may come with a dark side – manipulation


Badly designed workplaces, including excessive demands, poor physical environment, unfair practices and a lack of social support, can produce stress in employees.

For example, ill-conceived human resources processes, including performance management, can undermine social relations.

As a result, coworkers’ coping strategies (including changing the way we think about a situation, using humour, or focusing on solving problems) become overwhelmed. This leaves them less able to attend to the day-to-day normal pressures of work, and to regulate their own social behaviours effectively.

In other words, bad behaviour in the workplace could be linked to fatigue, rather than to an aspect of a person’s character.

Distress caused by difficult social contexts can also lead to “dissociation”. Dissociation is a self-protective mechanism that enables people to cut themselves off from their feelings of distress. But it can be experienced by others as coldness or a lack of empathy.




Read more:
Understanding others’ feelings: what is empathy and why do we need it?


Instead of miscategorising these distressed people as psychopathic, we need to better understand and recognise early indicators of reactions that need care.

To be accurately used in a workplace, the term “psychopathy” would require collecting data on thousands of cases of employees and examining variables that predict, for example, bullying, harassment, fraud, and other counterproductive work behaviours. This research does exist, but it is preliminary and needs replication with much larger samples.

But more profoundly, this distracts us from what we should be doing: making our workplaces better places to be. This will come from careful attention to the way that structures and practices feed unfairness and bring out the worst in us.

Instead of developing new ways of scapegoating each other with psychological concepts, we need to create environments that take care of our need to belong and to be appreciated for our contributions.

And finally, if you are really drawn to labelling a colleague a psychopath, you should perhaps also consider the question “is it me?”. There is substantial psychological evidence that judgement about the actions of others are usually harsher than our judgement of our own actions – even when they are the same actions.

The ConversationLabelling someone a psychopath makes the issue about the individual, rather than focusing on what the organisational factors are that are contributing to the behaviour.

Katarina Fritzon, Associate Professor of Psychology; Joanna Wilde, Industrial Fellowship, Aston University, and Rosalind Searle, Professor of HRM and organisational Psychology, University of Glasgow

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to understand and harness your workplace rage



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It’s ok to let a little anger show in the workplace but you shouldn’t let it all out, research says.
http://www.shutterstock.com

Peter O’Connor, Queensland University of Technology

As you’re sitting there, about to throw an office chair, your temperature and heart rate rising, know that it isn’t all in vain.

Getting angry in your office does actually have a positive side. For example, anger can motivate you to respond to perceived injustice. It can also be useful in negotiations, with research showing angry negotiators tend to have better outcomes.

But it can also lead you to make poor decisions, say something you’ll regret and even make you more physically violent.


Read more: In defence of happiness: why emotional intelligence is key in the digital age


Given the mixed consequences of anger at work, you shouldn’t feel justified in hitting a fellow employee, but recent research suggests a little anger in moderation is alright.

Common anger triggers at work

The most common cause of workplace anger is being treated unjustly (77%), according to an early but influential Australian study. Researchers also found we don’t tolerate being the target of immoral behaviour like laziness or theft (23%) and being disrespected by our coworkers (20%).

More recently, researchers have suggested three main triggers of anger in the workplace:

  1. Feeling unjustly treated by others, particularly a supervisor or witnessing an injustice in your organisation (for example someone else being treated unfairly)

  2. When you feel like someone is messing with your goals or obstructing your plans. Lack of time or resources can also be the cause of deviant behaviour at work

  3. Interpersonal conflict, like personality clashes and differences in attitudes. Not only causing one but many people to be angry.

Is your blood boiling yet?

When anger is beneficial

The research evidence for the professional benefits of anger are mostly in relation to negotiation and leadership situations.

In studies of negotiation, people who expressed anger had better outcomes. However this is usually only when the angry party has the greater power, or when the recipient of the rage has poor alternatives to negotiating.

A 2016 study found anger in leaders can make them appear more powerful, yet less effective. Intense anger in leaders motivates their subordinates to increase their effort but also means they will be more deviant. Another study found that anger enhances performance, but only when followers have conscientious and agreeable personalities.

More generally, research finds anger has positive consequences at work when it’s expressed verbally, is of low intensity and when it’s a mad man rather than a woman.

Do some people just have a low boiling point?

Although most people will occasionally experience anger at work, some people seem to constantly be on edge.

For example, people who usually blow their top as opposed to getting only a little angry will be more likely to experience ongoing anger at work. These people are easily provoked.

People who are neurotic at work are also likely to be more angry because they have poor emotional regulation. People who show traits of psychopathy and low agreeableness are also more likely to express their anger at work, than others.

However these people tend to be more successful at work. But anger is probably not the cause of their success. It is more likely that anger is a side-effect of adaptive characteristics. For example competitive people are likely to be both successful and express anger more often.

Anger as a strategy

Since anger is beneficial in some instances, it raises the question: should employees strategically act out anger to bring about positive outcomes? Although some research supports this, other studies suggest caution.

For example one study demonstrated that faking anger in negotiations is detrimental to resolving the conflict. A better strategy than faking anger is actually to communicate it when it is real, but do so in a controlled manner (for example not being abusive but telling someone you’re mad).

There’s only one type of person who seems to be an exception to this advice: those high in the personality trait “machiavellianism”. Machiavellian employees are those who operate strategically and manipulatively at work in order to achieve their goals. They can be highly angry and are likely to use it, and aggression, strategically to enhance their success.

Tips for managing anger

Aside from making you very unpopular in the workplace, anger has been linked to high blood pressure and heart disease. Fortunately, there are things you can do to manage anger in the office.


Read more: Four signs you have high emotional intelligence


You don’t have to be a zen master to learn to regulate your emotions through mindfulness and emotional intelligence training. One simple strategy involves reducing arousal through deep, slow breathing. This type of training can also protect from stress which is a major source of anger. Although emotional regulation will not eliminate anger, it will reduce its intensity.

You can also go straight to the source of your rage and see if that can be changed instead. This is not easily done, however it can be best in the long run.

The ConversationOverall, the research seems to suggest merit to both expressing and controlling anger. It’s generally not a good idea to use anger as a strategy to manipulate, but when something makes you angry, feel free to express it – it might lead to positive outcomes.

Peter O’Connor, Associate Professor, Business and Management, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Guilty about that afternoon nap? Don’t be. It’s good for you.



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Naps have many benefits, including improving memory, reaction times and mood
Sal/Flickr, CC BY

Nicole Lovato, Flinders University

You may be familiar with that feeling of overwhelming sleepiness during the mid-afternoon. It’s common, occurs whether you’ve eaten lunch or not, and is caused by a natural dip in alertness from about 1 to 3pm. So, if you find yourself fighting off sleep in the middle of the day and you’re somewhere where you can have a nap, then do it.

Taking the time for a brief nap will relieve the sleepiness almost immediately and improve alertness for several hours after waking. And there are many other benefits too.

Understanding why we nap

People nap for lots of reasons, some which are:

  • to catch up on lost sleep

  • in anticipation of sleep loss to avoid feeling sleepy later on

  • for enjoyment, boredom or to pass time.

Napping is relatively common. In fact, about 50% of us report taking a nap at least once per week.

Napping rates are greater in countries like Greece, Brazil and Mexico that have a culture of siesta, which incorporate “quiet time” in the early afternoon for people to go home for a nap. In such countries, up to 72% of people will nap as often as four times per week.




Read more:
Forget siestas, ‘green micro-breaks’ could boost work productivity


The perks of napping

Naps are not only beneficial because they make us feel less sleepy and more alert, but because they improve our cognitive functioning, reaction times, short-term memory and even our mood.

The benefits of having a nap are similar to those of drinking coffee.
Photo by Jakub Kapusnak on Unsplash

Our research (not yet published) has found those who regularly nap report feeling more alert after a brief nap in the afternoon when compared to those who only nap occasionally.

Another research group found that motor learning, which is where brain pathways change in response to learning a new skill, was significantly greater following a brief afternoon nap for regular nappers when compared to non-nappers.

In fact, the overall benefits of naps are similar to those experienced after consuming caffeine (or other stimulant medications) but without the side effects of caffeine dependence and possibly disrupted sleep at night time.




Read more:
Health Check: what are ‘coffee naps’ and can they help you power through the day?


How long should a nap be?

The amount of time you spend napping really depends on the time you have available, how you want the nap to work for you, and your plans for the coming night. Generally speaking, the longer a nap is, the longer you will feel rejuvenated after waking.

Long naps of one to two hours during the afternoon will mean you are less sleepy (and require less sleep) that night. This could mean it will take longer than usual to fall asleep.

A brief power nap is a great way to improve alertness.
from shutterstock.com

If you are planning to stay up later than usual, or if taking a little longer to fall asleep at bedtime is not bothersome, time your nap for about 1.5 hours. This is the length of a normal sleep cycle. You will experience deep sleep for about an hour or so followed by light sleep for the last half an hour.

Waking up during light sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and alert. However, waking during deep sleep will not. If you sleep too long and miss the light sleep at the end of a nap, chances are you will wake up feeling sluggish and drowsy. If you do experience feeling drowsy after a nap, don’t worry – this feeling is temporary and will go away after a while.




Read more:
Want to boost your memory and mood? Take a nap, but keep it short


Another option is to have a brief “power” nap. Brief naps of 10-15 minutes can significantly improve alertness, cognitive performance and mood almost immediately after waking. The benefits typically last for a few hours.

Power naps are great because you won’t experience any sluggish or drowsy feelings after waking. This is because you do not enter any deep sleep during this brief time.

Research suggests, a brief, early-to-mid-afternoon nap provides the greatest rejuvenation when compared to naps at any other time of the day. However, if you’re struggling to stay awake, a brief nap taken at any time can be help keep you alert.


The ConversationFurther reading: Did we used to have two sleeps instead of one? Should we again?

Nicole Lovato, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, Flinders University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Sick Man of Europe is Sick Again


As I have watched with some interest and concern the happenings in Turkey, the former ‘Sick Man of Europe’ appears to me to be once again ‘sick.’ Perhaps not in the exact same manner as it was at the end of the Ottoman Empire, but sick none-the-less. The little man of Turkey who runs the show there needs to be dealt with in my opinion. He is the very image of a small character who wants to be something bigger but has nothing really going for him apart from some thuggish type of rule. Perhaps the Kurds will teach him a lesson or two as he seeks to impose his bombastic will on them yet again.

For Erdogan’s latest efforts of getting on the world stage visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/21/recep-tayyip-erdogan-kurds-syria-risky-gamble-could-quickly-turn-sour

Explainer: how does sunscreen work, what is SPF and can I still tan with it on?



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Sunscreen protects from skin cancer, burning and from the sun’s ageing effects.
PRONicki Dugan Pogue/Flickr, CC BY

Terry Slevin, Cancer Council Australia

Sunscreen use not only reduces the risk of skin cancer and sunburn, it also reduces the ageing effect of the sun.

But whenever summer rolls around, it’s easy to forget the basics – like, how should I apply sunscreen? How long should I wait after applying it to go in the sun, and how long can I stay in the sun with it on? And how does it work anyway?

How does sunscreen work ?

There are two main parts to all sunscreens. The active ingredient and the emulsion.

Sunscreens either absorb UV radiation or reflect it.
from shuttersrock.com

The active ingredient does the sun protection work. These come in two categories: UV absorbers and UV reflectors.

UV absorbers are chemicals that absorb UV radiation and convert it to a very low level of heat. So low most don’t notice it, but a small proportion of people do report sunscreens make them feel uncomfortably warm.

UV absorber chemicals are also called “organic”, because they contain carbon atoms, a basis for all organic matter.

Some absorb the UVB part of the spectrum, which is known to cause sunburn and contribute to skin cancer risk. Others absorb the UVA part of the spectrum. Recent research suggests the longer UVA wavelengths not only penetrate to deeper layers of the skin but contribute to skin cancer through compromising immune response to DNA damage.

For that reason, sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum” is recommended as it offers the best protection.

Broad action sunscreen is recommended.
from shutterstock.com

UV “reflectors” are mostly made up of metals, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that scatter UV radiation. The tiny flakes of metal act like mirrors to reflect the UV away from the skin.

There is normally more than one and often up to six or more active ingredients in most sunscreens.

The emulsion – the lotion, milk, cream, oil, foam or gel – is what carries the active ingredient. It is usually made up of some combination of oil and water, plus other goodies. These are important as they preserve the product so it lasts on the shelf or in your cupboard. They also help with water resistance, influence how the sunscreen feels and smells, and how well it binds to the skin.

What does SPF mean and how is it measured?

Sunscreen provides a screen, not a block. Think of a fly-screen door: air gets though but flies don’t. In the same way, the sun lotion or potion of your choice allows some small amount of UV radiation onto your skin.

A sunscreen with SPF 30 isn’t much lower in protection than SPF 50.
Mike Mozart/Flickr, CC BY

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It’s the measure of how much UV gets through the screen. The higher the number, the less UV passes through.

An SPF of 30 allows one-thirtieth or 3.3% of UV to reach your skin. This means it filters 96.7% of UV. With an SPF of 50, 98% is filtered and one-fiftieth or 2% gets through.

So while the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 sounds like a lot – it is a pretty modest (1.3%) – difference in protection.

Put another way, if your unprotected skin would take ten minutes to show signs of burning, then properly applying SPF 30 sunscreen would slow the rate of burning to the point where it would take 30 times longer, or 300 minutes in total. SPF 15 would take 150 minutes, while SPF 50, 500 minutes.

But this is perfect world stuff. If you extend your stay in the sun for 500 minutes (over eight hours!) only relying on sunscreen, you will very likely still burn!


Read more: What happens to your skin when you get sunburnt?


When and how do I put it on?

At a microscopic level, the skin is a series of peaks and troughs. Layering on sunscreen around 20 minutes before going into the sun allows the product to flow into the troughs and bind properly to the skin.

The skin is a series of peaks and troughs.
from shutterstock.com

Many sunscreens recommend reapplying every two hours. But another way to look at it is like painting a wall of your house. The first coat gets a reasonable coverage, but a reapplication 20-30 minutes after being in the sun – after the first coat has “dried” – gets you much more reliable coverage. And this will cover the bits you may have missed, or covered too thinly, on first pass.

Also, use it generously. Most people use too little (between a quarter and three-quarters) of the amount of sunscreen necessary to achieve the sun protection claimed on the label. A teaspoon per limb is a good rule of thumb. Add another teaspoon for your face, front and back. This comes to seven teaspoons (35ml) in all if you are at the beach in board shorts or a bikini.

You need to apply around seven teaspoons of sunscreen in all if you’re at the beach in a bikini.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash, CC BY

Layer it on and spread it around. Reapply every two hours or more often if you are active (sweating, towelling off, skin making physical contact with anything that might rub it off), even if the bottle claims four-hour water resistance. And a good idea is to check if the lotion hasn’t passed its use-by date.

Use other things to protect your skin too. Hats, shade, clothing and even staying indoors at the highest UV periods. The closer to solar noon, usually between midday and 12.30pm, the higher the UV.


Read more: Will I damage my eyes if I don’t wear sunglasses?


The World Health Organisation recommends protecting skin from the sun when the UV Index is 3 or above. The Bureau of Meteorology reports on the UV Index around Australia and the SunSmart App allows you to get live readings on your smartphone.

How long can I stay in the sun with sunscreen on?

It’s wise to stay in the sun no longer than is necessary to do your planned activity. Staying out longer just because you have the sunscreen “suit of armour” (which it is not) is a bad idea.

Even following all the best advice, the normal daily activity – wiping water from your eyes, scratching an itch, cuddling the kids, brushing against a tree or your best buddy – will remove sunscreen and diminish its performance. And remember it is screening, not blocking the sun.

The ConversationAnd will you still get a tan if you put on sunscreen properly? Well, no. If sunscreen is properly applied to do its job of reducing UV radiation exposure, it prevents the biological process of tanning.

Terry Slevin, Adjunct Professor, School of Psychology, Curtin University; Education and Research Director, Cancer Council WA; Chair, Occupational and Environmental Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why getting enough sleep should be on your list of New Year’s resolutions



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Getting enough sleep can help our memory, waistline and our performance at work.
David Mao

Amy Reynolds, CQUniversity Australia; Doug McEvoy, Flinders University; Robert Adams, University of Adelaide, and Sally Ferguson, CQUniversity Australia

If you need an alarm to get up in the morning, you’re probably not getting enough sleep.

More than 40% of Australians get too little sleep to feel rested and able to function at their best. The average amount for an adult is around seven hours, while only 8% are lucky enough to get more than nine hours. Some 12% of Australians get less than 5.5 hours, and three-quarters of those struggle to get through their day.

These holidays, ditch the alarm clock and make getting enough sleep one of your New Year’s resolutions. Your memory, waistline and even your employer may thank you for it.

Why getting enough sleep should be a priority

Our brains use sleep time to sort through our experiences. We “clean up” and get rid of information connections we don’t need from the day just gone. Without adequate sleep, we may not be making enough space for new learning and memories.


Read more: Why our brain needs sleep and what happens if we don’t get it


Getting enough sleep also ensures we are safe to drive on the roads and less likely to make costly mistakes at work and home. Being awake for longer than 17 hours impairs your ability to think clearly as much as having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05. After 24 hours awake, your ability to perform cognitive tasks is as poor as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10.

Last year’s Australian sleep survey found 29% of Australian workers reported making errors at work in the previous three months specifically because they hadn’t got enough sleep. One in five respondents reported having nodded off while driving.

Getting enough sleep may also be helpful for managing our food intake. When people are only allowed to sleep for short periods of time, they are more likely to choose to snack food, particularly sweet snacks.

It’s natural to reach for sweet snacks when we don’t get enough sleep.
Sarah Swinton

The body’s response to eating food changes when sleep is restricted; as little as one week of restricted sleep is associated with glucose (sugar) levels approaching pre-diabetic levels.

The benefit is not limited to individual well-being. Australian workers who feel they get inadequate sleep are more likely to take a sick day than those who feel they get enough.

So, how much sleep do we need?

The American Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged between 18 and 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, while older adults should aim for seven to eight hours.


Read more – Explainer: how much sleep do we need?


Your ideal sleep duration will be unique to you and fall somewhere within the recommended range. To find out how much sleep you need, try a week-long experiment and modified sleep regime. Think of it as your holiday homework:

  • Cut back on how much you are doing during the week, particularly in the evening, to give yourself time to wind down

  • Put away the technology. A tech ban in the bedroom might be the best start

  • Create a dark sleeping space

  • Get rid of the alarm clock so your body has the chance to tell you how much sleep you need

  • Keep a week-long diary of your sleep times and daytime energy levels to get a feel for how much sleep feels good the next day.

Over a week, see how much sleep you actually need to feel fresh.
Warren Wong

You might find you need to sleep longer than usual for the first couple of nights. But remember, this is an exercise to work out how sleep can help you feel good rather than a test to see how much sleep you “must” or “can” get as this pressure may not help with sleeping well.

You might feel a little groggy the next morning which is normal, but you should wake up – and get up – when you feel well-rested.


Further reading – Health Check: how can I make it easier to wake up in the morning


By seeing where you sit on the sleep spectrum, you can work out the bed and wake times that best suit your needs.

How to get more sleep

Here are some starting points to make sleep more of a priority.

1) Reduce your exposure to bright lights in the evening

Allowing your body to naturally respond to the light and dark cycle each day can lead to earlier bed times.

Ditching distractors that delay our bedtimes can help shift the increase in the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy, to earlier in the evening.

As little as one weekend of camping away from electrical lighting, including blue light in our devices, can help us become early risers.

Camping is a good way to reset the body clock.
Patrick Hendry

If there’s no time for camping this Christmas, try a “camp at home” approach by reducing your light exposure throughout the house at night; dim and fewer lights in the evening is ideal.

2) Establish a routine

While some find falling asleep a breeze, this can be a slow process for many. Consistent activities – such as brushing your teeth, reading a book – at a regular time each evening can help your body recognise and prepare for heading to bed.


Read more – Health Check: how to soothe yourself to sleep


Make sure this time is in addition to the time you set aside for sleep, so you have enough time to wind down before bed.

This routine extends to consistent wake times. A regular bed and wake time schedule should be complimentary.

3) Talk to your doctor about your sleep

If you’re told you snore, or you never feel refreshed even after what seems to be a long sleep, talk to your GP about whether you might have an underlying disorder that makes getting enough sleep harder.

According to last year’s national sleep survey, 8% of Australians have diagnosed sleep apnoea, 18% have restless leg syndrome and 20% have insomnia. Getting help for these conditions will impact your physical and mental health.

The ConversationWhile time spent sleeping may feel akin to “doing nothing” for your health, the benefits of regular, refreshing sleep for your brain and body mean that it should be on your New Year’s resolution list right next to healthy eating and exercise.

Amy Reynolds, Lecturer in Psychology, CQUniversity Australia; Doug McEvoy, Chief investigator, National Centre for Sleep Health Services Research, Flinders University; Robert Adams, Professor of Medicine, University of Adelaide, and Sally Ferguson, Research professor, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.