Review Category : Health

Sleep Isn’t What It Used to Be, Study Finds

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Though closing our eyes and drifting off into unconsciousness is one of the simplest tasks we perform each day, scientists are still trying to unravel why we sleep — and how we can do it better.

“For sure, it is tempting to decrease the amount of sleep (maybe along with an improved intensity of sleep) with the idea to increase the efficacy of our life,” Dr. Christoph Nissen, a sleep researcher at University Medical Center Freiburg in Germany told ABC News in an email.

Humans need an average of seven and a half hours of sleep per night, but some only need five hours and some need as many as 10 hours, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Though we understand sleep is vital to things from mood and memory to metabolic functioning and immune systems, it’s still not completely understood, and solving sleep disorders is critical, Nissen said.

Between artificial light, devices that keep us connected 24/7 and modern day societal demands, sleep isn’t what it used to be, researchers have claimed. So Nissen embarked on a study, which aired on German television, to see how five healthy adults would sleep in a Stone Age-like settlement.

The participants spent eight weeks in a settlement in Southern Germany, living in huts built on stilts with no electricity, running water or modern day conveniences like phones, according to the study. They gathered their own food each day and returned to their beds made of brushwood and furs each night. There were no torches or candles in the huts.

Nissen and his fellow researchers used sleep-tracking armbands to learn that the participants slept an average of 1.8 hours more each night than they did before going to the settlement.

“As a whole, these observations provide some experimental support for the long-held notion that people under prehistoric living conditions experienced prolonged sleep times compared to people under modern living conditions,” they wrote in the study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Though not exactly prehistoric, electricity pioneer Benjamin Franklin slept regularly from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night, Mason Currey wrote in his book, Daily Rituals. (Franklin also enjoyed an “air bath” when he woke up each morning, in which he sat in his room naked for up to an hour, Currey said.)

But without electricity to provide artificial light, maybe it was easier for Franklin to live by his motto, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

After all, Thomas Edison wouldn’t patent the first practical light bulb until 1880.

Currey scoured biographies, interviews and other records to find out about the habits of some of the most influential minds throughout history, and said the most interesting sleep schedule belonged to Buckminster Fuller, an American architect, inventor and author.

In the 1930s, Fuller decided a normal night of sleep wasn’t working for him, so he decided to train himself to sleep only in 30-minute increments.

“He decided that normal human sleep patterns may no longer be practical for modern lifestyles,” Currey said. “He decided he could train himself to sleep less and have vastly more time to do work.”

So Fuller experimented with a concept he called “high frequency sleep,” in which he would work until he started to feel sleepy — about six hours — and then cat nap for about 30 minutes, Currey said. He would do this around the clock without ever stopping for a longer rest.

“The other funny thing is he apparently got so good at this he could go to sleep instantly,” Currey said. “People in the room with him would be sort of freaked out he had an off switch in his head.”

Of course, he eventually stopped doing it because his wife complained.

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Which Diet Gives the Best Bang for Your Buck?

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Need some help losing weight? The diet program Weight Watchers and the weight loss drug Qsymia may provide the best bang for your buck, a new study found.

Researchers from Duke University compared the costs and effectiveness of three diet programs and three weight loss medications and found that Weight Watchers came out on top, with a price tag of $155 per kilogram lost.

“[Weight Watchers is] a program that holds you accountable,” said ABC News senior medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton. “Whether through their meal plans or through their meetings, this helps you stay on track.”

The average annual cost of Weight Watchers was $377, according to the study. Users lost an average of 2.4 kilograms or 5.3 pounds.

“It’s about restricting portion size,” Ashton said of the point system-based program. “It’s not about depriving you of food. That’s key.”

Qsymia was a close second, clocking in at $204 per kilo, according to the study. Ashton said some of her patients have had impressive results with the drug.

“They were obese to morbidly obese, and most lost significant weight,” she said.

Also included in the study were the weight loss drugs Vtrim at $213 per kilo, Lorcaserin at $545 per kilo, and Orlistat at $546 per kilo, as well as the diet program Jenny Craig, with an average cost effectiveness ranging from $338 to $424 per kilo, depending on the amount of food purchased.

But the price of dieting isn’t the only cost to consider, Ashton said, citing the emotional, psychological and social costs of obesity, which affects one in three American adults.

“We need to look at the big picture when we think as a nation of how to deal with the issue of obesity,” she said.

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Seriously, You Should Talk to Strangers

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — Heading to the office or heading back home after a long day at work aren’t the best conditions for socializing, particularly if you’re on the subway.

And while commuters are often wary about making any kind of eye contact with a stranger, Nicholas Epley, a professor at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, says it may be not be such a bad idea to open up a little bit, even if you think you might get ignored or even socked in the jaw.

Epley conducted a number of experiments on Chicago’s rail line in which participants at first believed that keeping to themselves would prove to make their commutes more enjoyable. They also expressed fear of speaking to someone, worried there’d be no reciprocation.

However, the dread they expressed appeared to melt away as the participants reported that socializing on the subway was easier than they had anticipated, saying that they liked initiating a conversation and being spoken to by a stranger.

For those still reluctant to make the leap, Epley suggests the more you socialize, the easier it will become.

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Sleep Deprivation Distorts Memories

iStock/Thinkstock(IRVINE, Calif.) — Remember the last time you had a bad night’s sleep? If you can’t, it’s possible that your interrupted sleep contributed to your forgetfulness.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of California, Irvine conducted an experiment in which participants recalled details of a simulated burglary. Those deprived of sleep — from staying awake for 24 hours or even getting five or fewer hours of shut-eye — were much more likely to experience memory distortion.

While just an experiment, the MSU and UC-Irvine researchers say chronic sleep deprivation could have a dire effect on the criminal justice system, particularly when witnesses are asked to recall specific details about serious cases including murder investigations.

Besides memory distortions, health experts blame lack of sleep on a variety of other conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, not to mention causing vehicular accidents.

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Overreacting to Losing Can Start a Pattern of More Losing

Photodisc/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) — As the late football coach Vince Lombardi often said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”

Lombardi particularly hated to lose, but usually didn’t overreact following a defeat, figuring the formula that generally proved successful shouldn’t be tampered with.

However, some coaches and business executives often make hasty decisions when things don’t go their way, sometimes resulting in more setbacks.

A Brigham Young University study bears this out. Co-author Brennan Platt says that he looked at data from NBA coaching decisions over two decades to determine how personnel was changed following a narrow victory or narrow loss.

Typically, lineups were more often adjusted after defeats than triumphs and that changes that weren’t well-thought-out resulted in at least one more loss per season.

Platt says this kind of thinking has adverse effects in the business world as well, with bosses sometimes overanalyzing an employee’s performance when things didn’t go right. Much of the time, a supervisor doesn’t take into account situations out of someone’s control, which can occasionally be chalked up to just plain bad luck.

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Don’t Blame the Weather When Your Back Gets Cranky

iStock/Thinkstock(SYDNEY) — Does weather have anything to do with lower back pain? Some people will swear it does, often blaming temperature changes, rainstorms, humidity or barometric pressure for their discomfort. But as it happens, they’re wrong, according to researchers from the Sydney Medical School.

To prove their point, they studied the records of close to a thousand people who had gone to see their doctors for pain in the lower back that had developed within the past 24 hours. Each was asked where they lived and exactly at what time their backs began aching.

Then, without the knowledge of the patients or doctors, the researchers crossed-referenced that information with weather data from the days back pain was reported.

The results? There was no pattern to show that rain, humidity or sudden temperature changes affected the back. However, the Sydney researchers did discover something quirky: for whatever reason, there were slightly more reports of back pain whenever higher wind and wind gust speeds occurred.

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Baby Who Can’t Open Mouth Celebrates First Birthday

Courtesy Scott Family(OTTOWA, Ontario) — Wyatt Scott turned a year old earlier this summer, but he ate his birthday dinner through a tube in his tummy.

It’s been more than four months since the Scott family launched WhatsWrongWithWyatt.com to find out why their baby boy can’t open his mouth, and though they’ve been flooded with emails, their little boy’s condition remains a mystery.

Wyatt’s lockjaw has baffled doctors since he was born in June 2013 in Ottawa, Canada, and though the Scott family has taken him to every specialist imaginable, they can’t figure out the root of the problem, Andrew Scott said. Wyatt spent the first three months of his life in the hospital, and his parents have had to call 911 several times because he’s been choking and unable to open his mouth.

So Wyatt’s mother, Amy, decided to create a website, WhatsWrongWithWyatt.com last spring in the hopes that someone would recognize the condition and offer a solution.

Wyatt’s doctor, Dr. J. P. Vaccani, told ABC News in April that the condition, congenital trismus, is rare and usually the result of a fused joint or extra band of tissue. But Wyatt’s CT and MRI scans appear to be normal.

“It’s an unusual situation where he can’t open his mouth, and there’s no kind of obvious reason for it,” Vaccani, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario told ABC News. “Otherwise, he’s a healthy boy.”

Andrew Scott said he’s sifted through 500 emails submitted to WhatsWrongWithWyatt.com over the last several months, and compiled a list of the most important ideas to give to Wyatt’s doctors. One letter-writer from Virginia told the Scotts that Wyatt’s story made her cry because her now-14-year-old had similar mysterious symptoms.

“She could have written it herself,” Andrew Scott recalled her saying.

Though the Virginia 14-year-old underwent surgery and therapy, Andrew Scott said Wyatt seems to have something different.

“It’s not just that his mouth doesn’t open,” he said.

Wyatt underwent a study in which doctors X-rayed him while he was feeding to see how the muscles in his mouth and throat worked. They found that he has problems with motor function and swallowing in addition to the lockjaw.

“His blinking is erratic,” Andrew Scott added. “He’ll wink on one side a bunch, then the other side and back and forth.”

Their quest for answers has been slow. A recent muscle biopsy came back negative, and Wyatt is awaiting results of his third genetic test.

Since the website launched, Wyatt had a major health scare: he stole a piece of chicken off his mother’s plate and put it in his mouth, Andrew Scott said. His lips were parted just enough to get it in, but neither of his parents could get it out, so they pulled it out in pieces. They thought it was all gone when Wyatt fell asleep.

Then, Wyatt started choking.

“He almost died,” Andrew Scott said. “I ended up just giving him breath.”

Wyatt “came back” just as ambulances and fire trucks arrived, Andrew Scott said. At the hospital, doctors scoped Wyatt’s lungs, but he was still coughing up chicken pieces several days later.

The emergency forced doctors to use anesthesia to put Wyatt to sleep, which they were too afraid to do before because they feared he would stop breathing. While he was out for the lung scope, the also did a muscle biopsy and put in a G-tube. Now, instead of being fed through a tube in his nose that leads to his stomach, Wyatt can “eat” through a tube in his belly.

Wyatt’s birthday party at the end of June was a pig roast that drew 50 people and included a piñata, goats and a trampoline. Though Wyatt didn’t get any mashed-up pig in his G-tube, Andrew Scott said “maybe next time.” By the end of the party, Wyatt was sound asleep in the grass.

“He is a very happy baby,” he said.

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Report: Chinese City in Quarantine After Bubonic Plague Death

iStock/Thinkstock(YUMEN, China) — Parts of a city in northwestern China are in quarantine after a man died from bubonic plague last week, state media reported.

The 38-year-old victim had been in contact with a dead marmot, a type of rodent, according to the Xinhua news agency. Health officials and disease prevention specialists are in Yumen, in China’s Gansu Province, to prevent the plague from spreading.

Several parts of the city of more than 100,000 people are reportedly in quarantine, and 151 people who recently had contact with the victim are under isolation, the news agency said. No one has any symptoms of the plague, Xinhua reported.

Some reports claim the victim had chopped the squirrel-like rodent up to feed it to his dog, and later developed a fever. He died in a hospital on July 16.

Bubonic plague usually comes from an infected flea bite, which can live on rodents and other animals, according to the World Health Organization. Without immediate treatment, it is fatal in more than half of cases.

The plague is very rare but still present in mostly rural areas.

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Report: Chinese City in Quarantine After Bubonic Plague Death

iStock/Thinkstock(YUMEN, China) — Parts of a city in northwestern China are in quarantine after a man died from bubonic plague last week, state media reported.

The 38-year-old victim had been in contact with a dead marmot, a type of rodent, according to the Xinhua news agency. Health officials and disease prevention specialists are in Yumen, in China’s Gansu Province, to prevent the plague from spreading.

Several parts of the city of more than 100,000 people are reportedly in quarantine, and 151 people who recently had contact with the victim are under isolation, the news agency said. No one has any symptoms of the plague, Xinhua reported.

Some reports claim the victim had chopped the squirrel-like rodent up to feed it to his dog, and later developed a fever. He died in a hospital on July 16.

Bubonic plague usually comes from an infected flea bite, which can live on rodents and other animals, according to the World Health Organization. Without immediate treatment, it is fatal in more than half of cases.

The plague is very rare but still present in mostly rural areas.

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Deaf Toddler Has Second Brainstem Device Surgery to Help Him Hear

iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — A deaf toddler who underwent surgery to have a radical auditory device implanted into his brainstem to help him hear is showing vast improvement after undergoing the surgery a second time, his doctors said, giving new hope that the device could one day be a common treatment option for deaf children.

Alex Frederick, a 2-year-old boy from Washington Township, Mich., was just 17 months old when Dr. Daniel Lee from Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and a team of specialists from Massachusetts General Hospital, implanted an Auditory Brainstem Implant or ABI, into Alex’s brain last year.

Alex was born with little to no hearing and the ABI acts as a kind of “digital ear.” It’s made up of a small antenna that is implanted on the brainstem so that it can pick up signals from a tiny microphone worn on the ear and relay them back inside as electrical signals that reach the area of the brain associated with interpreting sound.

An Italian surgeon named Dr. Vittorio Colletti pioneered the use of the device and implanting procedure in children — previously the device had been used as a common approach for treating adults with brain tumors. The device is currently not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but is undergoing a series of clinical trials to win approval. Alex was selected as a participant in one of these trials last year and Nightline has followed him and his parents on their journey.

Alex’s first surgery was a success, but a few weeks ago, the toddler fell and hit his head on a table. The impact broke the speech processor and damaged the surgically implanted plate in his skull that holds the device in place, doctors said.

On July 2, Alex underwent a five-hour “revision” surgery at Massachusetts General to have the entire device re-implanted. His team of doctors successfully replaced the broken ABI with a new one, in the same location on the left side of his brainstem, and Alex seems to be improving quickly.

“The responses looked encouraging. That could be associated with stimulation of the first brainstem implant,” Dr. Lee told Nightline on Monday. “In order for brain development to continue it needs to be stimulated whether it is through sight or through hearing, through sound. In the case of the ABI, the device is electrically stimulating the path of sound in the brain, which means that the neural network can continue to mature. A mature network of the auditory pathway is associated with better responses.”

Alex returned home just four days after the second surgery and his parents remain optimistic.

He is “alert and playing with toys less than 48 hours after surgery completion,” Alex’s father Phil Frederick told Nightline over email. “Not trying to jinx things but he is healing faster than last time.”

“We are just so happy right now and excited things are looking up,” he added.

At the time of Alex’s first surgery in November 2013, he was the youngest person in the U.S. to receive the ABI device and is one of a very few pediatric patients in the world to undergo ABI revision surgery. Worldwide, about 10 children are known to have had the device re-implanted.

Since the procedure on children is still new, Dr. Lee said he and the rest of Alex’s surgical team discussed whether to re-implant Alex’s device in the same location, or try to place it around his other ear.

“The decision was not so clear, as far as whether you implant the same ear and encounter scarring, which would make the surgery difficult, or consider doing an ABI on the other ear, which has not been implanted yet,” Dr. Lee said. “In the end we decided to attempt replacing the first ABI because it was working well and because the experience of one particular ABI surgeon, Dr. Colletti, was that revising these ABI’s is possible if done carefully. We went ahead after much deliberation to do the ABI on the same side.”

Alex was born two months prematurely, weighing just four pounds and four ounces at birth. He spent the first month of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit of St. John Hospital in Detroit. Scans later showed that Alex had a heart condition, his vision was compromised and he was deaf.

When Alex was 1, his parents tried for a cochlear implant, a 40-year-old technology that uses electrodes to stimulate auditory nerves. The surgery commenced, but was halted mid-operation when it became evident it would not work due to the irregular structure of Alex’s inner ear. The scar from that failure is still evident behind his right ear.

Alex’s parents kept looking for an answer, for some other technology that would help their son hear. In the course his research, Phil Frederick learned about Dr. Colletti’s approach for placing ABIs in children, and that the device was about to undergo a series of clinical trials in the U.S. to win FDA approval.

After finding out about the ABI surgery, Frederick looked up which U.S. hospitals where hosting the clinical trials and emailed them all individually to get Alex on the list. In August 2013, the family got word there was an opening in a trial being conducted at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston, under the direction of Dr. Lee.

“ABI surgery in the child … who cannot get a cochlear implant can result in meaningful sound awareness and speech perception with time, but it takes work,” Dr. Lee told Nightline in a previous interview.

On Oct. 5, 2013, the Fredericks traveled from Michigan to Boston for Alex to undergo the initial surgery, for which Dr. Colletti flew in from Italy to observe. Alex’s surgery cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but was paid for by the family’s insurance company.

Several weeks after the first surgery, Alex and his family returned to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in November 2013 to have his ABI switched on for the first time. Wires connected the device inside his head to a sound generator controlled from a computer, where a doctor could manipulate the sound level on the device. Nightline was there when the device was first switched on.

Alex’s parents decided that they wanted the first sound their son to hear to be his older sisters’ voices, so after the device was turned on, Evelyn, 6, and Izabella, 3, started talking, but it didn’t elicit a reaction from Alex. Others in the room tried raising the sound level, but still nothing at first.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, a doctor in the room slammed her keys into the side of a desk, and Alex turned towards the sound. With that little turn of his head, Alex had made the connection to sound for the first time.

Alex and his parents are eager to get back to the long process of Alex learning what sound actually is and how it has meaning, even meaning as words. They will return to Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary next month, where an audiologist will activate the newly implanted device, and the family will continue to travel back and forth to Boston every month, so that doctors can test Alex’s hearing response as they fine-tune the software that interacts with the electronics inside his skull.

Since Alex’s surgery, Dr. Lee has implanted the device in an 11-month-old girl from Austin, Texas, and on Wednesday, the teams at Massachusetts General and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary will meet again to perform the same surgery on a 15-month-old girl from Oregon.

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