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Not enough sleep throws your circadian rhythm off, leading to potential cognitive problems
Sleep deprivation leads to a shutdown in the production of essential proteins.
- Two new studies indicate what happens when your natural circadian rhythm is disrupted by not enough sleep.
- The production of essential proteins is disrupted by a lack of sleep, which could result in cognitive decline.
- From dementia to an uptick in obesity, sleep deprivation wreaks havoc in your physiology.
As sleep science continues to discover the necessary benefits of a good night's rest, roughly one-third of Americans sleep less than six hours every night. Two new studies, both published in the journal Science, and both conducted on mice, have deepened our understanding of why sleep matters so much to cognitive and physical health.
The downsides of sleep deprivation are well-known. From an increase in automobile accidents to stark cognitive decline (sometimes leading to dementia) to weight gain, a regular sleep schedule is the best recovery tool we have in our biological arsenal. Napping has been shown to help, though the eight-hour overnight prescription seems to hold up best, for most people. Sleeping too much, it turns out, has adverse affects as well, but that's not a problem most run into.
For the studies published in Science, researchers were able to better understand the relationship between sleep cycles and our circadian rhythm, the internal timekeeper that preps us for shutting down and waking back up. While a number of factors play into that rhythm — screen time, caffeine intake, habitual behaviors, work schedule — by honoring its natural cycle you prime for your body for optimal health.
Falling off the cycle, it turns out, disrupts communication between the neurons necessary for maintaining a healthy relationship to our nightly ritual.
The Science of Sleep
In the first study, researchers at the University of Zürich discovered that our circadian rhythm regulates protein transcription. When you're feeling tired and head off to bed, the proteins necessary for healthy cellular functioning are produced, peaking at two points in the day: right before bed and upon waking up. Sleep sets into motion the transcripts for protein-building, while waking up promotes synapse-firing, the communications device that allows neurons to speak.
When mice were deprived sleep, the transcripts malfunctioned. The messenger RNA (mRNA) were unable to deliver the messages necessary for completing the protein-building and synapse-firing phases that sleep provides. The team, led by Sara B. Noya at the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, writes:
"Under conditions of high sleep pressure, one-fourth of mRNAs remained identically circadian, and most preserved some degree of circadian rhythmicity. In contrast, no substantial circadian rhythm could be detected in any protein when sleep pressure was constantly high."
The takeaway: honoring your circadian rhythm — some of us are early risers, others late to bed, so nuance matters; what appears stable is that seven-to-nine hours of sleep works for most everyone — will result in the proper building of proteins and communication between neurons. Depriving yourself of sleep will not only make you tired; your mental health will pay the price over time.
Illustration of the biological clock. Depending on sunlight perceived by the eye, signals are sent to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, home of the circadian clock, located in the hypothalamus, which controls various biological rhythms. The brain controls the secretion of melatonin (sleep hormone), which increases as light diminishes.
Image source: Jacopin / BSIP / Universal Images Group via Getty Images
For the second study, a team led by Franziska Brüning (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich; the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry) measured the attachments of a phosphate molecule that turns these proteins on and off every four hours, aka "circadian clock-driven protein phosphorylation." Previous studies have measured this process every 24 hours, making this new research more revealing in terms of how these proteins operate.
As with the companion study above, they discovered two peaks, one upon sleeping, the other before waking. The team writes that previously it was not well understood how time of day affected phosphorylation. By depriving mice of sleep, an abundance of the process was lost in forebrain synapses. They write:
"Our data uncover molecular processes in synapses whose activity is temporally gated by phosphorylation, such as synaptic inhibition at dawn and excitation at dusk."
Maria Robles, who took part in both papers, says these companion studies reveal the our brain has developed "a beautiful way to control" the molecules necessary for healthy physical and cognitive functioning. While mice are not men, our shared DNA allow such studies to reveal the inner workings of human physiology. These two studies bring us closer to revealing what we already instinctually know: nothing replaces a good night's sleep.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.