Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Science of Slumber: Sleep and Health

www.Ask the Scientists.com



BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! An entire night has passed in the blink of an eye. The last thing you remember is your head hitting the pillow in the dark. Now, seemingly seconds later, the incessant, blaring of the alarm clock wakes you. But it does no help in reminding you what day it is, where you are, or perhaps even who you are.

Surely, you’ve experienced a morning like this: groggy, confused, and sleep-deprived. The effort to keep your eyes open feels exhausting. Standing up and leaving your warm bed behind is torturous. The day’s long to-do list awaits you and seems daunting.

Of course, you soldier on and make it through the day. But what does that day look like? It’s surely not smooth sailing, all quiet keyboard clicks and soothing, classical music. No, on days like this, you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of noises—the cell phone ringing, inbox pinging, and doors slamming after you in a hurry. All whilst trying to drown out the chatter in your head— “Don’t forget to do this!” and “I forgot to do that!”

Foregoing solid, quality sleep can affect your day in a big way. It’s important to remember that the effects of sleep deprivation are not just physical, like the physical feeling of exhaustion. Just like the scenario above, low-quality or insufficient sleep can manifest itself mentally and emotionally. That can include a loss of concentration, short attention span, and even anger. Lack of sleep can also mean a lack of motivation and sharp decision-making skills, forgetfulness, and anxiety.

Sleep is important for feeling rested, but it’s more than physical downtime. Sleep is also your brain’s chance to recharge and regroup. Let’s look more in-depth at the physical and mental benefits of regular, quality sleep.

Sleep and Health: The Pros and Cons


Pro of Good Sleep Con of Poor Sleep
Mental Solidifies memory retention and information recall Decreases ability to concentrate
Enhances learning and problem-solving capabilities Poor decision-making skills
Increases alertness Shorter attention span
Boosts creativity Lack of motivation
Promotes adaptability and resiliency Inability to cope with change
Better regulation of emotions Increases risk for feeling down
Physical Maintains cardiovascular health Increases risk for cardiovascular and kidney issues
Helps regulate hormones associated with hunger Increases risk of obesity
Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels Increases risk for blood-sugar issues
Maintains healthy development, muscle growth, and tissue repair Interruption of growth hormone secretion
Supports strong immunity Increases risk of common cold

Science of Sleep: What Happens When You Snooze

Sleep gives your body and mind an opportunity to power down and recharge. It might seem like this period is simply an absence of consciousness, where the body goes into a sort of idling mode. However, during sleep, your body and brain are actually working hard. Sleep activates a process that helps you rest, repair, and recharge. Take a closer look at the processes during the four different stages of sleep.

Stage 1 is the period between wakefulness and sleep. In this stage, everything starts to slow down. Muscles soften, heart and breathing rates decrease, and brain-wave patterns begin to change.
Stage 2 is light sleep. Your muscles loosen even more, heart and breathing rates continue to slow, and your body temperature drops.

Stage 3 is the deepest sleep stage. Here, your heart and breathing rates come to the lowest point of the entire sleep cycle. Your muscles are extremely relaxed and rousing you would prove difficult. It’s this stage that is integral to quality sleep. Without enough time spent in this sleep state, you will not awaken feeling well-rested.

Stage 4 (the final stage of the sleep cycle) is known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. The first three stages involve non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM (NREM).
In many other ways, REM is also quite the opposite of the preceding three stages. Heart rate increases and breathing rate can quicken and become irregular. Eyes move rapidly behind the eyelids and brain activity livens. Dreaming is commonly experienced during the REM sleep stage. Your body might actually experience temporary paralysis of the limbs, a protective measure to keep the body from acting out movements about which you dream.

These four stages are cycled through in succession until you wake up. It’s necessary for you to experience both NREM and REM sleep to remain sharp through the day. Without both, memory consolidation is harmed. As you’ve surely experienced, after a night of little-to-no sleep, it can be very difficult to recall even simple information quickly.

Factors Impacting Your Sleep

Good sleep can seem like a complex puzzle. Many factors can influence the quality and duration of your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, try keeping a journal to monitor the factors below. You can jot down notes throughout the day or write a quick summary before bed. Whichever your preferred method, having a daily snapshot of your diet, activity level, and emotional state can give you an idea of which of these things improve or harm your sleep quality:
  • Caffeine: This stimulant usually wakes up the body and can keep you from feeling tired. In fact, caffeine actually blocks the substance adenosine, a chemical that your body secretes to make you sleepy. While this can be a benefit in the morning or during a long day, ingesting too much caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening can affect your sleep.
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  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol too late in the evening can disrupt your sleep patterns. More specifically, it can disrupt your REM sleep, leaving your cycles incomplete. On a simpler level, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the urge to urinate more frequently. So, having too much alcohol can also disrupt your rest because you might have to make more frequent trips to the bathroom.
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  • Diet: The timing and content of your last meal can affect your readiness for bed. Think of the blood sugar surge that comes from a meal or snack. The boost in energy late in the day can keep you from winding down easily.
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  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help you maintain a regular sleep schedule. Just don’t exercise too late in the evening before bed, or your body won’t have time to settle back down before turning in.
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  • Stress level and emotional state: Consider how stressful your day was or your emotional state throughout the day. If you’re feeling especially worn down, worried, or otherwise stressed, it can be very difficult to quiet your mind for bed.
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  • Bright lights: You’re constantly being bombarded by light, with can impact production of your sleep hormone. Make sure your room is dark, and take a break from bright screens (TV, phones, and tablets) before you tuck in.

7 Tips for Better Quality Rest

After journaling for a week, you may notice some patterns. Pay close attention to what these clues are trying to tell you. From these, you can create a personalized wind-down plan to prepare you for bedtime. If journaling isn’t your style, or you need some easy ideas, the seven tips for super sleep are below:
  1. Consider cutting back on how much caffeine you drink, or impose a “caffeine deadline”—a point at which you won’t ingest any more for the day.
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation or impose an “alcohol deadline” so that your body has time to readjust before bed.
  3. Avoid eating a meal or post-meal snack too late in the evening.
  4. Exercise regularly, preferably early in the day. A good starting point is 20 minutes per day—and work up from there.
  5. Plan for at least seven hours of sleep. You may need more than seven. But this is a good target to work up to if you’re currently and routinely getting less than this benchmark. While you may not be able to reach seven hours immediately, start incrementally heading for bed sooner so the change is gradual and more doable.
  6. Set a regular bedtime and waking time—and stick to it, even on weekends. This kind of routine is helpful for keeping your body’s internal clock in rhythm.
  7. Incorporate relaxation or meditation into your wind-down routine. Turn off screens, dim your bedroom lights, play light instrumental music. Light stretching can help your body release tension before laying down.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.
© 2018 Ask The Scientists. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Immune System: Your Amazing Body’s Guards


Your immune system is in a battle every day. That’s its job.

You’re protected by a coordinated defense. Cells, proteins, and chemical signals join forces against bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other pathogens. And your immune system also helps in wound healing, cellular and tissue turnover, and repair.

A healthy, functional immune system is a complex machine. It contains many layers, subsystems, tissues, organs, and processes. But a basic understanding can help you see what you need to maintain healthy immunity.

Barriers to Entry

Imagine your body as a castle to be defended. The first layer of defense are your physical and chemical barriers. They’re the high, thick walls that turn away many intruders.

Your skin is the most obvious physical barrier. And it’s a good one. Your largest organ is a waterproof covering that protects you against pathogens. Skin’s construction, substances on the surface, and other compounds in deeper layers help it provide protection.

Skin does a good job, but there are other paths into the body. That’s why other physical barriers exist.
Your upper respiratory tract has tiny hairs called cilia. They move potentially harmful material away from your lungs. Your gut barrier blocks absorption of possibly harmful substances. And your excretory (bathroom) functions physically expel pathogens.

Mucus blurs the line between the physical and chemical. Whatever category you put it in, mucus is an effective trap for invaders. It’s produced by membranes throughout your body. This thick, gluey substance is your body’s sticky trap, grabbing microbes and not letting go.

Other chemical barriers include: tears, saliva, stomach acid, and protective chemicals produced inside of cells and in your blood.

Immunity in General: Your Innate Immune System

The innate immune system is sometimes called the non-specific immune system. This subsystem of your larger immune defense is loaded into your genetic code. That’s the innate, or inherent, part. And it provides more general protection, destroying any microbes that enter your body. That’s the non-specific part.

Your cellular defenses kick in if a pathogen survives your physical and chemical barriers—which could also be considered part of the innate subsystem. That’s where phagocytes (a specific type of immune cell) come in. These white blood cells act like guards patrolling your body and destroying invaders.

These cells are found throughout the tissues of your body. They kill pathogens through a process called phagocytosis. It’s complicated, but there’s a simple way to understand it.

Phagocytes eat the invading microbes. They were named phagocytes for a reason—phago comes from the Greek for “to eat.” Phagocytes ingest or engulf the invaders. While trapped, several killing mechanisms are deployed to destroy the pathogen.

Some phagocytes have receptors that distinguish between healthy cells and potentially harmful substances. (They also deal with turnover of dead and dying cells.) Other pathogen eaters are chemically signaled to sites where they can be most useful. Phagocytes even help with the cleanup and repair after the invaders are destroyed.

Adaptive Immunity

Your adaptive immune system is like an immunity database. After encountering a specific pathogen, you have immune cells that can recall the best way to destroy it. That’s why it’s also referred to as specific or acquired immunity.

The original pathogen exposure can be intentional or accidental. That doesn’t matter. A normal, healthy response starts with an antigen. Think of an antigen as the bar code of each cell. Just like every item in the grocery store has a unique bar code, each cell type has a unique antigen code to identify it.

These antigens—mostly proteins—can also identify pathogens. Our immune system has learned to read these antigen codes. When they recognize something as being foreign, they initiate an immune response.

Each unique antigen triggers the creation of a unique antibody. The y-shaped antibody binds back to the corresponding antigen and marks the invader for attack by other immune cells. Some antibodies can even take care of business for themselves.

Lymphocytes (another specific type of immune cell) are the main cells involved in your adaptive immune system. Two types of white blood cells—T and B cells—are produced in your bone marrow. They can attack and kill pathogens on their own, or assist other white blood cells in the responses.

T and B cells form the basis for your body’s immunity memory bank. B cells present antigens and create and release antibodies. Memory T cells—those that survive previous attacks—quickly and effectively respond to known pathogens. Together, they help your immune system efficiently and effectively destroy known bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens.

Defend Your Immune System

Above, you’ve read about the way a normal, healthy immune system functions. But your defenses can be impacted by your environment, diet, stress, sleep, travel, and other lifestyle factors.

Healthy immune function is a whole-body effort, and maintaining it takes a holistic approach. Here’s a few things that can help:
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep a night—and avoid pulling any all-nighters.
  • Exercise regularly to promote memory cells, enhance skin immunity, and mobilize immune cells.
  • Minimize stress as much as possible or practice healthy coping strategies, like exercise.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to provide essential micro- and macronutrients and important phytonutrients. A healthy diet (that includes healthy amounts of fiber) will also provide your microbiome with what it needs to maintain good gut barrier function(In addition, I take the Usana Health Sciences CellSentials, ProBiotics and Digestive Enzymes)
  • Practice good hygiene, including frequent handwashing, so your body doesn’t have to deal with as many pathogens in the first place.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Team USANA Number Two for Olympic Medals Behind Norway







 Team USANA (athletes who use the USANA products) captured 34 pieces of transition metal—13 Gold, 14 Silver and 7 Bronze. That’s four more than what was collected in 2014.

If you’re wondering how that stacks up against the overall official standings, it stacks up nicely. If Team USANA were a country, USANA athletes would’ve had the second highest tally, right behind Norway.


USANA was founded on science by a microbiologist who loves the periodic table. Which has provided hundreds of thousands of people with top-rated supplements for more than 25 years. But what does the chart of elements, a diagram that most of us haven’t seen since high school, have anything to do with USANA’s sponsored-athletes?

Well, depending on how you look at it, that question could truly be answered in several ways with nutrition being the base of them all. We by no means are indicating or suggesting that the periodic table brought on any of the below accomplishments. But if we narrow it down to three transition metals that sit in column 11—Au, Ag and Cu—and add in the global sporting extravaganza that took place last month in East Asia, you should hopefully get what we’re trying to do here.

KEEPING UP IN KOREA
For 18-days, nearly 3,000 athletes glided, jumped, flipped and twirled for a chance at top honors. Tears of joy and disappointment were shed, historic moments were captured and for some, retirement from the sports they’d dedicated their entire lives too were celebrated.

And in the process, Team USANA captured 34 pieces of transition metal—13 Au, 14 Ag and 7 Cu. That’s four more than what was collected in 2014.

If you’re wondering how that stacks up against the overall official standings, it stacks up nicely. If Team USANA were a country, USANA athletes would’ve had the second highest tally, right behind Norway.

Now the big question. Who made history, who double-dipped and who celebrated their final run on the world’s biggest stage?

PODIUM BREAKDOWN
  • USA Luge’s Chris Mazdzer captured silver and the first medal in US history in the men’s singles event.
  • U.S. Freeskier Alex Ferreira took home silver in his debut in freestyle halfpipe.
  • US Speedskating’s Brittany Bowe secured bronze in the team pursuit, while John-Henry Krueger took silver in the men’s 1,000m.
  • Teammates Meaghan Mikkelson, Natalie Spooner and Rebecca Johnston earned silver in women’s hockey.
  • Canadian bobsledder Alex Kopacz went gold in the two-man event.
  • US Ski and Snowboard brought home an additional 14 hunks of metal—7 gold, 4 silver, 3 bronze.
  • Speed Skating Canada collected seven—2 gold, 2 silver, 3 bronze—three of which were captured by short tracker Kim Boutin.
  • USANA’s Korean speedskaters walked away with seven honors—3 gold, 4 bronze.
NOTABLE HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. freeskier Devin Logan became the first female to qualify for two disciplines—slopestyle and halfpipe—finishing 10th and 15th.
  • USA Nordic’s Bryan Fletcher completed his second and final Olympic appearance with a top 10 finish in the team event and top 20 finishes in two individual competitions.
  • Taylor Fletcher made his third appearance and finished 10th in the team event alongside his brother Bryan, and 35th in the normal hill event.
  • Two-time Olympian Matt Antoine finished 14th in the men’s skeleton event.
  • Canadian speed skater Ivanie Blondin took to the ice in four events, finishing in the top six in three of them.
  • Ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson celebrated her second Olympics with a 19th place finish.
  • Elise Christie of Great Britain Short Track was just shy of a podium with a 4th place finish in the 500m event. 
  • Korean ice dancers Yura Min and Alex Gamelin helped added to a 9th place finish in the team event.
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