6 Ways To Get A Good Night Sleep

Sleep accounts for one-third of an average day and contributes to physical and mental wellbeing. We cannot do without sleep, but for many sleep often evades them. Lack of sleep leaves people feeling groggy, lacking in workplace creativity and productivity and can all too often lead to physical and mental illness. Here are some tips, including the science, to help you get a good night sleep.

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  1. Eat and drink well

The nutritious intake of food and drink is essential to maintain a healthy body and mind. Healthy body weight is attributed to better sleep quality. A diet rich in vitamins and minerals should help improve sleep quality. Vitamin B6 can help boost melatonin, a sleep hormone produced naturally by the body to aid in the sleep-wake cycle. Magnesium is also thought to improve sleep quality in sufferers of insomnia. Magnesium can be found in dietary sources such as nuts and seeds, and oily fish such as mackerel and salmon. These fish also contain essential fatty acids OMEGA-3s which are good for brain health!

2. Mindfulness

One of the common reasons for poor sleep quality is anxiety and stress. I am sure we have all experienced at some time the rolling of thoughts preventing sleep coming to us. One of the most important ways you can help alleviate the stress is to practice mindfulness, the act of being in the present.

You can practice mindfulness by laying comfortably, closing your eyes and then feeling the sensation of your body against the sheets. Feel the rise and fall of the chest with each breath. Feel the breath move into the body and then leave again. Allow stress and tension to leave the body with each exhalation. Listen to the sound of breathing. If your thoughts wonder off, just gently bring them back to the present.

I suffer from bad dreams, and I have used this technique many times to go back to sleep after waking up from a disturbed night – trust me it takes a bit of practice, but it works.

3. Create a nice environment

This may sound like common sense, but when you are dog-tired, it is very easy to just crawl into bed and hope that sleep arrives. You need to make sure that the environment is calm, the temperature is right and bed welcoming.

Create a really peaceful environment using soft and calm earthy colours such as blues, green and grey. These are all suggested to assist with sleep, but of course, you will pick what works for you and your bedroom.

Make sure the bedding textures are just right for you, I don’t like satins but love the coolness of cotton, for example. Replace that lumpy pillow if you are finding it is not comfortable, it may be affecting your sleep more than you realise. I frequently turn my pillows over to feel the coolness, this is a personal preference and helps me drift back off. Take a more objective look at your bedroom and decide what changes would create a better feel of the bedroom. You must make sure that you are comfortable we spend a lot of time in bed!

4. Physical activity

Not everyone will like this one, but it works! Physically active people usually sleep better and regular exercise helps those that suffer from insomnia. I am an advocate for health and fitness, but I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

You need to make sure that the activity you choose works for you. I am not suggesting you take up running if you are not a runner (well, maybe…!). Walking is a great way to raise the heart rate, practice mindfulness and destress. Best of all, it is free. The only caveat is when you exercise may affect your sleep. Exercising immediately before bed may be a stimulant for some, so experiment with when will work best for you, starting with a morning or early afternoon walk.

5. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is not for everyone and scientifically is controversial. There are studies that clearly show aromatherapy oils work to promote sleep and reduce anxiety. It is thought that the aromatherapy particles are able to reach the limbic region of our brain, producing a sedative and relaxing effect. Lavender is an oil that is frequently used to promote feels of relaxation, it is added to baths, used in massage oils, burnt or vaporised. Aromatherapy oils really are subjective because if you don’t like the smell, it will not help you to sleep so you will need to find the oil that is right for you.

6. Reduce Brain Stimulation

There is scientific evidence that suggests a bright screen before sleep will impact on sleep quality and this is particularly true of children. One reason for this may be due to the fact bright screens decrease the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. A reduction in melatonin would interrupt the effectiveness of the sleep-wake cycle. So, to improve sleep time, dim the lights of your screen, or better still listen to an audible mindfulness or meditation App.

Avoid stimulation by reducing coffee consumption during the day. Caffeine is a stimulant and can impair sleep quality. Coffee is my hot got-to drink of choice, so I usually stop drinking it early afternoon.

Those are my top six tips for improving sleep. Remember, regular quality sleep of between 7 to 9 hours is good for your health, your physical appearance and general wellbeing. You can implement changes one at a time or make radical changes – whatever will work for you! Feel free to leave comments about what works for you.

So, tell me, what changes are you going to make first?

Mood boosting spinach pesto

Mood enhancing spinach pesto

80g spinach

2-3 cloves of garlic crushed

½ lemon, juiced

50g pine nuts

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor using extra virgin olive oil to produce a consistency similar to a thick dip. Season to taste.

The science behind spinach and mood enhancement

Many anti-depressant drugs focus on the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) due to the fact changes in the brain’s serotonin system are observed in depression [1]. Serotonin is essential for overall health and wellbeing, and people report that it can produce a more positive mood. A class of drugs that act as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) are used in the treatment of depression. SRIs ensure that serotonin is available for a longer duration at the neuronal synapse where it is thought to exert its mood-boosting effects. The mechanism of action for serotonin is not clear due to the complexity of the brain.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body is not able to synthesis itself, so it is considered an essential amino acid that must be taken through dietary sources. Tryptophan is also a precursor for making the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and has been shown to produce mood-enhancing effects itself [2]. There is much scientific evidence emerging that links the gut, the brain and the importance of diet on not just physical health, but mental health too [3]. In this regard, spinach is rich in tryptophan and therefore, may indeed be mood-boosting as well. Spinach is also rich in iron, vitamins and minerals, so why not try this spinach pesto recipe and add it to rice, pasta, fish or anything else you may fancy. You never know, it may just turn that frown into a smile!

It is essential to be aware that depression is very complex, and eating mood-boosting ingredients will not necessarily lead to a permanent cessation of symptoms; however, it should not cause any harm. Dietary changes can provide additional support to the use of conventional therapy (if recommended by your GP) and appropriate professional support i.e. by licensed counselling practitioners.

References

1.         Young, S.N., How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 2007. 32(6): p. 394-399.

2.         aan het Rot, M., et al., Social behaviour and mood in everyday life: the effects of tryptophan in quarrelsome individuals. J Psychiatry Neurosci, 2006. 31(4): p. 253-62.

3.         Jenkins, T.A., et al., Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 2016. 8(1): p. 56.

Dementia epidemiology

Neurodegenerative conditions are predicted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to become the world’s leading cause of death by 2040. This class of disease constitutes a group of progressively debilitating conditions with unique disease-specific profiles, characterised by the selective loss of distinctive neuronal groups.

What is dementia?

Neurodegenerative dementias represent a class of pathologies that have varying degrees of, but unarguably, the progressive decline in cognitive functions such that there is interference in an individual’s ability to perform everyday duties, impacting on their social function and/or their capacity to perform usual occupational tasks.

Types of dementia

The most common forms of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Lewy body dementia (DLB), frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and vascular dementia. Both AD and DLB continue to be the leading cause of degenerative dementia in the elderly population (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Dementia subtypes and prevalence

Representative data from the Alzheimer’s society’s (UK) envisaged proportions of the subtypes of dementia and their prevalence in the UK alone. Adapted from (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/info/20091/position_statements/93/demography), published September 2014.

Dementia epidemiology

Dementia has emerged as an epidemic with aging being the predominant risk factor. By 2050, the number of people aged ≥60 years will have increased by 1.25 billion, accounting for approximately 22% of the total global population, with 79% living in less developed regions. Whilst the observed and projected increase in the number of people affected by dementia has largely been explained by the increase in population longevity, specifically in the developing world, dementia per seis not a natural part of the aging process.

Those affected by neurodegenerative dementias are principally aged 65 years and over with early-onset dementia accounting for only 2-5% of all cases, furthermore the prevalence nearly doubles with every additional 5 years of age following the age of 65 underscoring an increase in an age-related risk of developing neurodegeneration, in parallel with an increase in longevity.

In 2015 WHO reported 47.5 million people were afflicted worldwide by dementia, increasing from 35.6 million people in 2012 (WHO April 2012) and cases are predicted to rise by 7.7 million each year. It has been forecast that by 2050 the worldwide prevalence of dementia will reach 137.5 million. In the UK alone, 850,000 people are affected, this bestows a substantial burden on the economy with the cost of health care in the region of £26 billion, annually.

The broad-spectrum of dementia produces a gender bias with a predisposition towards females, 61% of dementia cases are seen in the female population when compared to 39% of males. This is a consistent observation that could be explained by the protracted longevity in females when compared to males. 

Global distribution of dementia

A systematic review contemplates the global prevalence of dementia and identifies a higher incidence in Latin-America and lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa with the greater proportion of dementia cases, being affiliated with low-middle range incomes. To corroborate this, more recent population-based studies on “high-income” countries have contradicted previous projections regarding dementia prevalence, indicating a decline in the age-associated risk of dementia. This has been attributed to various factors, largely surrounding the fact that higher levels of education and advances in treatment and diagnostics may lead to the early intervention of dementia indicators; these include cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and diabetes. A recent UK based study on dementia has reported a 20% decrease in dementia incidence over the last two decades in males. If the previous projections are proving variable, then it is possible that the predicted figures may be regionally modulated in accordance with the scope of social health care support available and attainable by the general population.

REFERENCES

McHugh, P.C., J.A. Wright, and D.R. Brown, Transcriptional regulation of the beta-synuclein 5′-promoter metal response element by metal transcription factor-1. PLoS One, 2011. 6(2): p. e17354.

McKeith, I.G., et al., Diagnosis and management of dementia with Lewy bodies: third report of the DLB Consortium. Neurology, 2005. 65(12): p. 1863-72.

Sousa, R.M., et al., Contribution of chronic diseases to disability in elderly people in countries with low and middle incomes: a 10/66 Dementia Research Group population-based survey. Lancet, 2009. 374(9704): p. 1821-1830.

van der Flier, W.M. and P. Scheltens, Epidemiology and risk factors of dementia. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2005. 76(suppl 5): p. v2.

Prince, M., et al., The global prevalence of dementia: a systematic review and metaanalysis. Alzheimers Dement, 2013. 9(1): p. 63-75.e2.

Langa, K.M., Is the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia declining? Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 2015. 7(1): p. 34.

Larson, E.B., K. Yaffe, and K.M. Langa, New Insights into the Dementia Epidemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 2013. 369(24): p. 2275-2277.

Matthews, F.E., et al., A two decade dementia incidence comparison from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies I and II. 2016. 7: p. 11398.

“4 Things Everyone Should Know About the Coronavirus”

I write this post for Fitness Savvy, a company that I provide writing services to and I thought I would share it on my website also.

Covid-19 is the third known zoonotic coronavirus disease, and the previous two were SARS and MERS [1]. There is a flurry of research to understand the mechanisms of infection and transmission. Here is what we know:

Should I take anti-inflammatory medicine?

There have been some conflicting reports relating to the use of anti-inflammatory medicines in the treatment for the Covid-19. For those that are able to use paracetamol to alleviate symptoms, it is certainly wise to do so. The reason there is a question mark hanging over the use of drugs such as ibuprofen is due to their effect on the immune system. Anti-inflammatory medicines suppress the immune system, which may be necessary to moderate the immune response [2]. It may in some cases, have a negative impact on the body’s ability to respond appropriately to infection.

We know how to avoid Covid-19, but what happens if you get it?

There are currently no specified treatments to prevent Covid-19, although much work is being performed globally. Antibiotics, are prescribed for a bacterial infection and will not help with a viral infection and should not be sought. If symptoms transition into a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia antibiotics may be prescribed.

It is essential that dehydration is prevented, take on plenty of fluids to reduce the risk. Stay hydrated despite how unwell you may feel, small sips during regular intervals may help.

A fever is a natural response to an infection and is the body’s natural way of fighting [3], but can become uncontrolled. Medications such as paracetamol can be taken to reduce a fever and the symptoms associated with it.

Covid-19 affects the respiratory tract [1] and in more severe cases, oxygen may need to be administered to assist with the appropriate supply of oxygen to cells.

What is meant by those ‘at risk’?

At risk persons are usually those that are already immunocompromised, in addition to the very young and the elderly. Immunocompromised include patients having chemotherapy treatment for cancer, patients having undergone organ transplantation and/or patients with existing lung disease such as COPD or cystic fibrosis. Furthermore, the response to infections decreases with age and therefore, elderly persons, with underlying health conditions may be considered at risk [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-new-measures-to-protect-people-at-highest-risk-from-coronavirus]. Conversely, young patients are still developing their immune systems and may be more susceptible to symptoms and pregnant women are also considered at risk.

Can you catch Covid-19 twice?

When exposed to an infection, such as a virus, the body will develop immunity against repeated infections. In principle, our immune cells will recognise components and fight repeat infections rapidly. This rapid response will mean that you may not be aware of the infection, as the body will fight it appropriately. It does not mean that you will not pick up the same infection twice, rather you will be better prepared for subsequent infections.

There are conflicting reports regarding Covid-19, and when the infection is under control, more detailed data will be available for analysis. What may appear problematic for one cohort of people, maybe less so for another? The guidelines issued by the government are based on the most available date and should be adhered to unless informed otherwise.

References

1.            Sun, P., et al., Understanding of COVID-19 based on current evidence. J Med Virol, 2020.

2.            Coutinho, A.E. and K.E. Chapman, The anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects of glucocorticoids, recent developments and mechanistic insights. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 2011. 335(1): p. 2-13.

3.            Evans, S.S., E.A. Repasky, and D.T. Fisher, Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heat. Nat Rev Immunol, 2015. 15(6): p. 335-49.

Scientific Writing

What is scientific writing

Scientific writing is an essential part of science with the documentation of ideas and demonstrable evidence of findings from qualitative and quantitative studies. How we gather, process and then communicate information is changing at the same time as technology is evolving, providing more platforms for scientific knowledge to be shared. This information needs to be delivered in a manner that is appropriate for its audience, thus, enabling its distribution and interpretation accordingly.

Styles of scientific writing

Scientific writing may be in a technical format, for example, the reporting of scientific observations and findings as a result of a study or notes in a lab book including methodology, research ideas and results. Conversely, scientific writing may include conveying information in a non-technical manner for a wider audience, for example, those that do not work in the science industry

Technical scientific writing

This is an example from a paper I published, written specifically for a scientific audience:

Non-technical scientific writing

Delivering complex scientific information to a non-scientific audience can be a difficult task and requires the breaking down of the information into bite-size and understandable chunks. Taking an extract from the example above, it has been re-written for a non-scientific audience:

Abstract:

‘Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is the second most prevalent neurodegenerative dementia, where an accumulation of aggregated fibrillar alpha-synuclein in neurons of limbic and forebrain regions of the brain leads to visual hallucination, cognitive impairment of a fluctuating nature and extrapyramidal motor disturbances. Beta-synuclein counteracts aggregation of alpha-synuclein in vitro and in animal models; however, it is not clear whether this effect occurs in human Lewy body dementia (LBD) diseases.’

Re-written:

Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) is a common form of dementia caused by gradual loss of brain cells. The cells affected are in the cortex and regions involved in memory. DLB sees protein aggregates formed from the sticking together of proteins into clumps inside the cells; the loss of these brain cells leads to the changes that characterise dementia such as memory loss, behavioural and personality changes. Beta synuclein and alpha-synuclein are proteins in the brain; alpha-synuclein is found in the protein aggregates – called Lewy bodies and beta-synuclein is a similar protein that can prevent the aggregation of alpha-synuclein. It is not known whether this effect is seen in humans also.’

Essentially, the pitch of the writing will be appropriate to those that will be reading it; however, it is imperative, when conveying such information that the information is interpreted correctly before disseminating.

Tracey Evans Writing Services

To conclude, be aware of the audience and write the piece accordingly. Scientific writing can be fun and light-hearted, journalistic or formal. If you would like some help with scientific writing please contact me.

Science and Spirituality

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Science has a very important place in understanding the human race, the world and the universe. It is based on both intellectual and practical activities producing systematic studies and observations through testable explanations, predictions and experiments. Collectively, these form scientific theories regarding the behaviour of the physical and natural world and the universe.

The earliest scientific roots can be traced back to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, circa 3500 to 3000 BCE. Some argue that the universal knowledge and understanding of our early ancestors, far exceeds that of our present understanding – you only have to consider the pyramids to appreciate that sentiment. Science does not have all of the answers of the universe and potentially never will – or as Albert Einstein said ‘the more I learn, the more I realise I do not know’.

 I believe that sometimes, we only need to look as far as our own heart and mind to experience the ‘unknowable’. Of course, personal experiences are subjective however, does that make them any less feasible?

I take great comfort in meditation and doing so with an intention – looking for guidance or support. For example, when I experience discontentment with a choice I have made, I will meditate over it. Sometimes, but not always, the way forward appears very clear and I have the answers I need to move forward. The question is, is this because of divine or other-worldly intervention or is it because I took the time to relax, clear my mind of clutter and focus on my intention?

In medical science there is something known as the placebo effect, which has been proven. In essence what this refers to is when trialling a new drug for a particular condition or disease, some will receive what looks like the drug when in fact it nothing more than a sweet. BUT they still see an improvement in their condition much like those taking the actual drug may. So, my point here is – if it works, does it really matter how? Should you question it too harshly?

As a scientist, my brain is conditioned to theorise and then prove or disprove the theory. But even then, there are often still more questions than answers and more theories to be tested. In my mind – we are still evolving, learning and understanding in all aspects of life. Just because we do not understand, does not mean something can not be correct. It is OK to believe in what others consider unbelievable; it is OK to accept that you do not know how something worked – it just did. If we stop asking so many questions, we may have more time to listen to the answers.

To finish, I have just purchased a book on spiritual science, I am interested in reading the thoughts of others in relation to the marriage of science and spirituality. I may change my viewpoints or have fresh ideas and if so, I look forward to sharing them with you.

Namaste

Tracey