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Writing a to-do list will help you sleep faster at night

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New York, Jan 15: Unable to sleep at night? Try writing a “to-do” list at bedtime as it may aid in falling asleep, a new study suggests.

“Most people just cycle through their to-do lists in their heads, and so we wanted to explore whether the act of writing them down could counteract night time difficulties with falling asleep,” said lead author of the study Michael K. Scullin from Baylor University, in the US.

The study compared sleep patterns of participants who took five minutes to write down upcoming duties versus participants who chronicled completed activities.

“There are two schools of thought about this. One is that writing about the future would lead to increased worry about unfinished tasks and delay sleep, while journaling about completed activities should not trigger worry,” Scullin said.

“The alternative hypothesis is that writing a to-do list will ‘off-load’ those thoughts and reduce worry,” he added.

For the study, published in Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers monitored electrical brain activity using electrodes on a group of healthy young adults.

They completed a writing assignment for five minutes prior to overnight polysomnography recording in a controlled sleep laboratory.

They were randomly assigned to write about tasks that they needed to remember to complete the next few days (to-do list) or about tasks they had completed the previous few days (completed list).

Participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep significantly faster than those in the completed-list condition.

The more specifically participants wrote their to-do list, the faster they subsequently fell asleep, whereas the opposite trend was observed when participants wrote about completed activities.

Therefore, to facilitate falling asleep, individuals may derive benefit from writing a very specific to-do list for five minutes at bedtime rather than journaling about completed activities, the researchers noted.

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How fasting can improve your overall health

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Fasting may not be just a religious or political practice. It may actually protect you against age-related diseases and improve your overall health, researchers say.

The study, led by a team from the University of California-Irvine (UCI), found that fasting affects circadian clocks in the liver and skeletal muscle, causing them to rewire their metabolism, which can ultimately lead to improved health and protection against age-related diseases.

The circadian clock operates within the body and its organs as intrinsic time-keeping machinery to preserve homeostasis in response to the changing environment.

And, while food is known to influence clocks in peripheral tissues, it was unclear until now how the lack of food influences clock function and ultimately affects the body.

“We discovered fasting influences the circadian clock and fasting-driven cellular responses, which together work to achieve fasting-specific temporal gene regulation,” said lead author Paolo Sassone-Corsi, Professor of Biological Chemistry at UCI.

“Skeletal muscle, for example, appears to be twice as responsive to fasting as the liver,” Sassone-Corsi added.

The research, detailed in the Cell Reports journal, was conducted using mice, which were subjected to 24-hour periods of fasting.

While fasting, the mice exhibited a reduction in oxygen consumption (VO2), respiratory exchange ratio (RER), and energy expenditure, all of which were completely abolished by refeeding, which parallels results observed in humans.

“The reorganisation of gene regulation by fasting could prime the genome to a more permissive state to anticipate upcoming food intake and thereby drive a new rhythmic cycle of gene expression. In other words, fasting is able to essentially reprogram a variety of cellular responses,” Sassone-Corsi said.

“Therefore, optimal fasting in a timed manner would be strategic to positively affect cellular functions and ultimately benefiting health and protecting against age-associated diseases.”

This study opens new avenues of investigation that could ultimately lead to the development of nutritional strategies to improve health in humans.

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Scientists decode different ways human face conveys happiness

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While disgust needs just one facial expression to get its point across throughout the world, happiness has 17 — a testament to the many varied forms of cheer, delight and contentedness, finds a study.

On the other hand, to convey fear humans use three expressions, four to convey surprise, and five each to convey sadness and anger.

The researchers explained that the differences in how our faces convey happiness can be as simple as the size of our smiles or the crinkles near our eyes.

“This was delightful to discover, because it speaks about the complex nature of happiness,” said Aleix Martinez, Professor at The Ohio State University.

“Happiness acts as a social glue and needs the complexity of different facial expressions; disgust is just that: disgust,” Martinez said.

The study showed that humans can configure their faces in thousands and thousands of ways to convey emotion — from anger to sadness to riotous joy — but only 35 expressions are actually similar across cultures.

For the study, published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, the team assembled a list of 821 English words that describe feelings and then used those words to mine the Internet for images of people’s faces.

The words were translated into Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Farsi and Russian, and plugged into search engines popular in 31 countries across North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia to download an equal number of images.

They found approximately 7.2 million images of facial expressions across a variety of cultures.

Based on computer algorithms, the team found that the human face is capable of configuring itself in 16,384 unique ways, combining different muscles in different ways.

The researchers took the 7.2 million images their searches yielded and sorted them into categories, looking for those that expressed emotion across cultures. They found only 35.

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Too much or too less sleep can increase heart disease risk

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London, Jan 15: Men who sleep less than six hours a night may be at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those who sleep between seven and eight hours, a new study suggests.

The study showed that poor quality sleep of less than six hours increases the risk of atherosclerosis by 27 per cent compared to seven to eight hours of sleep.

Atherosclerosis refers to the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances in and on the artery walls throughout the body.

On the other hand, women who slept more than eight hours a night had an increased risk of atherosclerosis.

“Cardiovascular disease is a major global problem and we are preventing and treating it using several approaches, including pharmaceuticals, physical activity and diet,” said Jose M. Ordovas, researcher at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Cardiovasculares Carlos III (CNIC) in Madrid.

“But the study emphasizes we have to include sleep as one of the weapons we use to fight heart disease — a factor we are compromising every day,” he added.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the team included 3,974 bank employees among which all were without known heart disease and two-thirds were men.

In addition, alcohol and caffeine consumption were found to cause short and disrupted sleep.

“Many people think alcohol is a good inducer of sleep, but there’s a rebound effect. If you drink alcohol, you may wake up after a short period of sleep and have a hard time getting back to sleep. And if you do get back to sleep, it’s often a poor-quality sleep,” Ordovas said.

Lack of sleep has been known to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing heart disease risk factors such as glucose levels, blood pressure, inflammation and obesity.

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