When Your Mind Won’t Wind Down


Where Is The Off Switch?

Have you ever been so wound up with thoughts or concerns that your brain refused to allow you to fall into blissful sleep? As long as your emotions are influenced by excessive amounts of stress, the pressure will continue to spark anxiety which will continue to rob you of sleep, even if your body is completely wiped out. A vicious cycle of insomnia not only prevents the body from getting the restorative sleep it needs, it can contribute to depression or panic disorder.

People are so busy these days that it can be a challenge to check off everything on to-do lists, so it is rather common to see folks working right up until bedtime. However, if you are having problems turning off your thoughts at night, you must break this habit and allow yourself to calm your mind in preparation for sleep. That means you need to avoid activities like housework, checking emails, paying bills, or any other activity which keeps your mind active, for at least an hour before your usual bedtime.

Anxiety and Sleep

What fuels the mind and makes it work overtime in the majority of cases is anxiety. The bed is supposed to be a place for sleep, yet many individuals lie in bed with thoughts spilling over, and are unable to get the thoughts to cease because they provoke anxiety. The chances of solving any problems while trying to fall asleep are slim, so the constant worrying only serves to interrupt much-needed sleep. Honestly, how often have you been able to solve an issue you were worried about, after you crawled in bed? Your mind will be better equipped to solve any issues which plague you if you shut off your thoughts and allow the restorative benefits of sleep to take over.

Go To Paradise

Try redirecting your thoughts by practicing guided imagery. While lying in bed, close your eyes and imagine a beautiful place, such as a tropical paradise. Breathe slowly and evenly, while imagining hearing the waves crash on the beach, and feeling the sand and the warmth of the sun. You can even play ambient sounds of the ocean to help you visualize the scene. This relaxation technique can be extremely effective in not only shutting off the endless chatter in your brain, but also in getting you to fall asleep.

If you are concerned that ideas or concerns will pop into your head in the middle of the night, keep a notebook and a pen next to your bed. Once you write something down, put the notebook away and let it go. Remember that it really can wait until tomorrow.

The Five Keys To Optimal Brain Health

Sharpens-Your-Brain

By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro

Even if your genetics put you at risk for developing dementia, there are numerous lifestyle and behavior adjustments which you can make in order to protect brain function and fight dementia. The five keys listed below are proven to improve brain health and keep your mind vital and sharp for decades.

1. MOVE YOUR BODY

Scientific research has proven that overall physical health is closely linked to brain health. Regular exercise aids in the maintenance of a healthy weight range, normal cholesterol levels, while also optimizing blood flow throughout the body and the brain and supporting the growth of new brain cells.

The benefits of physical health stem not only from regular exercise, but also from other good health practices. Support your brain’s health by doing the following:

• Exercise at least 30 minutes daily to relieve stress.
• Make sure to get between seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
• Refrain from using tobacco.
• See your doctor regularly.
• Maintain a healthy weight.

2. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

Research studies indicate that diets which are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, and rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids and nutrients like lutein and vitamin E, may have a protective effect on brain cells and overall brain health.

Brain-healthy dietary changes:

• Opt for healthy fats which are found in olive oil and fatty fish like salmon. Avoid saturated and trans fats.
• Consume a diet which incorporates milk, eggs, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, and dark leafy greens like spinach, all of which are rich in vitamin E. Vitamin E is an important nutrient which supports brain health. If you can’t get vitamin E from foods, you can take it in supplement form.
• Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, aiming for nine fist-sized servings each day. Select colorful fruits like cranberries, blueberries and tomatoes which are packed with powerful anti-inflammatory compounds known as polyphenols. Keep the skin on fruits and vegetables to maximize their nutritional benefits.
• Add lutein. Lutein is a potent antioxidant which is critical for eye and brain health. Foods which are rich in lutein include spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens, egg yolks, corn, and peas. You can also take lutein in supplement form.

3. EXERCISE YOUR BRAIN

Extensive research has proven that the brain continues to learn new skills and information throughout life, and benefits from frequent intellectual stimulation. Make sure to pursue new activities, education and games to challenge your mind. Read books to elevate your knowledge base.

How to stimulate your brain:

• Engage in regular sessions of a mental activity you enjoy, such as reading, word games such as crossword puzzles, or learning a foreign language.
• Get into a daily habit of learning a new word or fact.
• Master a new skill or subject each year.
• Manage stress and balance your energy by meditating. Meditation may help to reduce stress and body inflammation by soothing the vagus nerve, an important nerve which controls the body’s immune response.

4. NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS

Though we know that relationships with family and friends are key factors in a person’s happiness, regular social interaction promotes the formation of new brain cells and aids in brain repair. One study revealed that men and women who had the most social interaction had less than half the rate of memory loss as those who were the least socially involved. By visiting friends and family and being involved in community activities, you will protect brain health.

Social brain boosters:

• Spend time with your family and friends regularly, and make them a priority.
• Volunteer for an organization which surrounds a cause which you are passionate about.
• Work for as long as you can, and for as long as you feel motivated to do so.
• Join clubs and become involved in religious or spiritual activities which resonate with you.

5. BALANCE YOUR NEUROTRANSMITTERS

Brain function relies on important molecules known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitter levels affect mood, behavior, cognitive function, social function, digestion, sleep, weight regulation, and many other processes.

The problem with current society is that the vast majority of people have overly stimulated sympathetic nervous systems, which over time can drain the body of serotonin. The excitatory part of the nervous system dominates once the inhibitory neurotransmitters are depleted, resulting in anxiety and an inability to “wind down”. Eventually, even the excitatory neurotransmitters such as serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine and GABA are also depleted, and severe depression or chronic fatigue usually develop.

Conventional drugs cannot replenish these neurotransmitters, and in fact, tend to cause depletion of the neurotransmitters. This is the reason why some depression medications do not work on some individuals. The good news is that supplementation with amino acids can help to replenish deficient neurotransmitters.
How To Nourish Neurotransmitters:
• Eat a healthy diet. Neurotransmitter imbalance is aggravated by poor diet. Diets high in protein supply the brain with the amino acids it needs to replenish neurotransmitter levels.
• Consume branched chain amino acids to ensure a rich supply of neurotransmitter precursors.

REFERENCES
Neurotransmitter Assessment Brings Light to Management of Psychiatric Problems
Monday, 15 August 2005 00:59By Erik L. Goldman | Editor in Chief – Vol. 6, No. 3. Fall, 2005

Online Cognitive Training – Helpful Or Not?

lumosityx299_1

I came across an interesting article which discussed online cognitive training, and I wanted to share excerpts from it. Following the shared post is my own opinion of online cognitive training, based on my personal experience with the most popular programs.

Does Online Cognitive Training Work? – By Pauline Anderson

Online cognitive training programs promise to boost memory and attention, and they’re popping up at a rapid pace. According to one dementia expert, the online cognitive training business has grown from about $200 million annually 6 or 7 years ago to an estimated $2 billion a year today.

But are these companies truly giving patients an edge when it comes to warding off dementia, or are they cashing in on the worried well and an often vulnerable aging population?

Cognitive training is loosely defined as regularly engaging in a cognitive task, for example, learning a list of words, a set of pictures, or a certain route to a particular target.

Online cognitive training programs typically involve buying a monthly or annual subscription that allows users access to various cognitive tasks. These users sit at a computer to do these tasks on a regular basis. They usually have to pay more to get upgraded applications.

“It’s a huge industry,” says Peter Snyder, PhD, professor, neurology, Alpert Medical School, Brown University, and chief research officer, Lifespan Hospital System, Providence, Rhode Island, and editor, Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring, the Alzheimer’s Association’s online, open-access journal. Not surprisingly, many of these brain training companies target the aging baby boomer market. For the next 15 years, 10,000 people per day, every day, will turn age 65 in the United States, Dr Snyder said.

Many of them are worried about their memory. The issue of how to prevent dementia ”actually comes up almost every time I see a patient,” says David Knopman, MD, professor, neurology, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and an investigator in the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer Research Center, Rochester, Minnesota. If they still have a job, Dr Knopman advises patients that they probably get enough stimulation in the work environment. ”Certainly the computer can’t be as good for mental stimulation as the challenges you face in the work environment, even if you’re not in an executive position.”

And if the patient is retired but reads newspapers, belongs to a book club, or does volunteer work, “what would the computer testing offer that this socially engaging and mentally stimulating activity doesn’t provide?” asks Dr Knopman.

The benefits of cognitive activity aren’t in question. It’s clear from the literature, says Dr Snyder, that engaging cognitively with challenging and varied tasks may help slow the rate of progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Rock Solid Evidence

The lifestyle factor that has the most credible evidence for protecting against dementia to date is not cognitive training but physical activity. “The evidence is absolutely rock solid; it’s incontrovertible,” says Dr Snyder.

He worries that patients will play online cognitive games three times a week in the hopes of protecting their brain instead of taking a brisk walk three times a week.

And Dr Knopman is concerned that those playing brain games may not be socially active. Online cognitive training is ‘the opposite of being socially engaged,” he notes. “They force people to bury themselves in the computer for a certain period of time.”

It’s not clear whether pursuing cognitive training online adds any further benefits to physical and cognitive pursuits offline. That’s because to date there’s scant literature on the subject.

One study published earlier this year in The Lancet looked at the effect of healthy eating and exercise in addition to brain training in 1260 people aged 60 to 77 years who were at risk for dementia. Researchers found that an intensive program incorporating all three approaches, plus management of metabolic and vascular risk factors, slowed cognitive decline over 2 years.

Overall scores on the Neuropsychological Test Battery in the intervention group were 25% higher than those in a control group that received only regular health advice. The results were particularly striking in the areas of executive function and processing speed.

But how much brain training contributes to the mix remains to be seen.

Literature a “Wreck”

The literature in this area leaves a lot to be desired, Dr Snyder said. Most of the published literature is a “wreck,” he says, partly because the outcome measures are confounded, the follow-up period isn’t long enough, or proper comparisons aren’t in place.

A randomized controlled trial of cognitive training would have to compare this training to an appropriate placebo, he points out. “In this case, what’s the placebo? Is it absolutely nothing at all, which in most cases is what has been done?”

The question, says Dr Snyder, should be whether the online tasks are more effective than freely accessible pursuits doctors might routinely recommend to older adults, which in addition to regular physical activity might be things like learning a new language or practicing the piano.

Learning a language or an instrument is a complex process that involves several cognitive functions. In contrast, many of the online cognitive games being marketed focus on very specific cognitive functions, for example, remembering word lists.

So after some practice, you may get good at remembering those word lists — the so-called training effect — but how that translates into everyday life is unclear. “Is learning word lists over and over again on a computer going to generalize to being able to find your car in a crowded parking lot at a shopping mall?” asks Dr Snyder.

But forgetting where you parked your car, or the name of your grandson, can be a scary experience. More and more patients are looking for ways to prevent their descent into mental fog.

And so they’re increasingly turning to online cognitive games. “This is an industry that I worry preys on the elderly, preys on a vulnerable population,” says Dr Snyder.

Sweet Spot

William Mansbach, PhD, from Mansbach Health Tools LLC, Simpsonville, Maryland, agrees that the “sweet spot” for the at-home brain training industry is the “worried well” and that in general the industry’s claims far exceed the evidence.

But this may not be the case for those already experiencing memory impairment. His company has developed programs that he says can improve global cognition in these patients in as little as 3 weeks if they practice for 20 minutes, three times a week.

One of his programs — Memory Match — is a cognitive training task that exercises working memory and attention using themed cards. A study discussed at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference earlier this year found that those with mild cognitive impairment and mild dementia improved significantly on this test compared to a control group that didn’t receive it. Importantly, says Dr Mansbach, those with more severe dementia did not improve.

In structured interviews following this study, participants in the treatment group pointed to the intervention as a reason their memory improved, according to Dr Mansbach.

He’s proud of the “clear evidence” and “large effect sizes” from the study that suggest that this approach is legitimate.

Patients using his brain training tasks first do a self-assessment to determine at what level to start in order to get maximum benefit, he says. One of his criticisms of other programs is that there are no real assessment of the person doing the training and no concrete idea of what needs improving.

However, while he’s convinced his program works in the short run, long-term benefits are unclear. “We have no idea, and no one does.”

There could well be an important role for cognitive training outside industry, though. Jens Pruessner, PhD, professor, psychiatry, McGill University, Montreal, thinks that using this training may help pinpoint patterns that might be clues to the onset of dementia.

In a research project, he and his colleagues are testing PONDER (Prevention of Neurodegenerative Disease in Everyone at Risk), a free online cognitive training program aimed at those aged 40 years and up. Using neuropsychological assessments, researchers are tracking the progress of users to see whether the frequency, intensity, and duration of cognitive training leads to observable changes over time.

“Let’s say that in general, the training effect is such that you improve by 20% over time when you have been doing this task every other week for 6 months,” said Dr Pruessner. “Are those people who only improve by 10% or 5% at risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and eventually dementia?”

So far, the mean age of users is 57 years, which is exactly when age-related cognitive decline begins in those destined to develop dementia. Dr Pruessner notes that dementia begins some 20 years before clinical symptoms become significant.

Perhaps the most well-known of these companies is Lumos Labs in San Francisco, California, whose brain training site, Lumosity, is used by more than 70 million “brain trainers” in 182 countries, the company’s website notes.

The company has a collaborative research initiative, called the Human Cognition Project (HCP), that it says partners with more than 90 collaborators from 40 universities. “Through the HCP, we grant qualified researchers free access to Lumosity’s cognitive training tasks, assessments, research tools, and in some cases, limited access to data on cognitive task performance — helping them conduct larger, faster, and more efficient studies,” the website notes.

Lumosity also has in-house researchers to develop new cognitive training tasks and assessments, provide administration of controlled studies, and study Lumosity gameplay information to enhance the experience, the site notes.

Several publications in peer-reviewed journals have used Lumosity data. Earlier this year, researchers published a paper in Alzheimer’s & Dementia using data from Lumosity’s Memory Match game, which requires visual working memory, to look at individual differences in age-related changes in working memory. They found significant effects of age on baseline scores and lower learning rates. “Online memory games have the potential to identify age-related decline in cognition and to identify subjects at risk for cognitive decline with smaller sample sizes and lower cost than traditional recruitment methods,” the authors concluded.

A randomized trial of nonaction video games from the Lumosity site reported in 2014 in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience showed improvements with training in processing speed, attention, and immediate and delayed visual recognition memory in the trained group, but no variation in the control group. Neither group improved in visuospatial working memory or executive control, the researchers report.

“Overall, the current results support the idea that training healthy older adults with non-action video games will enhance some cognitive abilities but not others,” the researchers, with first author Soledad Ballesteros, PhD, Studies on Aging and Neurodegenerative Diseases Research Group, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain, concluded.

Multiple emails and telephone messages to Lumosity requesting an interview for this article, sent over several weeks, were not returned.

Personal Trainer for the Brain?

So, at the end of the day, should that 57-year-old patient who is worried about his forgetfulness fork out subscription fees every month to play cognitive games? If it keeps someone mentally active, “why not?” says Dr Belleville.

She points out that people pay a lot of money to join a gym when they could jog for free in the park. “If you have to pay a gym to continue to do your exercises, then pay; it’s worth the money.”

However, she acknowledges that while there’s a good deal of evidence that a certain amount and intensity of physical activity is good for the brain, “when you look at cognitive training, it’s all over the place.”

And she agrees that it’s not clear whether the training effect goes beyond the task being practiced — or whether it has the same impact as informal training, such as doing crossword puzzles several times a week.

On the other hand, “it’s probably better than doing nothing at all and looking at silly programs on television,” she says. “I think there’s something there, but we need to understand better what the active ingredient is so we can provide good advice to people.”

Now here’s my take on online training:

I believe that the practice and the HABIT of performing cognitive training serves a beneficial purpose for people who engage in it. I also strongly agree that such training programs are a much better alternative to watching television. While I agree with Dr Knopman that computer cognitive training doesn’t provide an individual with any benefits over reading, learning a foreign language, or engaging in a complex mental activity which would protect brain function, I strongly believe that the current pace of society has made it extremely difficult for people to find time to engage in such activities. On a personal note, I never have time to leisurely read a book like I used to in the past. For me, a ten minute visit to a brain training website keeps my skills sharp and is a nice break from the hectic lifestyle which I deal with all the time. In addition, my regular cognitive games do not interfere in any way with my four to six day per week exercise regimen. I also maintain social engagement through work and my personal life. I am thankful for the brief visits to training websites, because they make me feel less guilty about not having an hour or two to carve out of the day to dive into a book.

Body Bacteria and Brain Health

body bacteria

You can find my original post at:

http://xactmind.com/xc/articles/body-bacteria-and-brain-health/

By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro

We Need Microbes

The cells in our bodies are far outnumbered by the microbes which also take up residence there, but these organisms are beneficial to us in many ways. For example, we rely on beneficial bacteria to fortify our immune systems and aid in the breakdown and absorption of food particles in the gut. Scientists have recently discovered that the microbes which are found throughout our bodies also play a vital role in keeping the blood-brain barrier intact.

The Blood-Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is a vital physical blockade which prevents harmful chemicals and pathogens from passing into the brain. Scientists in Stockholm discovered that the blood-brain barrier relies on the presence of gap junction proteins, which are similar to the gap junction proteins which are important for building the intestinal wall. They tested the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in developing and adult mice by raising mice in a sterile environment to ensure that they were germ-free.

The scientists then injected antibodies (which are too large to pass through the blood-brain barrier) into embryos developing within germ-free mothers, as well as embryos developing within mothers who harbored normal germs. While the embryos from the normal germ-containing mothers had intact blood-brain barriers which formed a tight seal by day 17 of development, the embryos which developed in germ-free mothers displayed antibodies in their brains, proving that the blood-brain barrier had not formed properly. The embryos from germ-free mothers also had far fewer intact gap junction proteins in the blood-brain barrier.

Microbes and Multiple Sclerosis

These findings suggest that microbes are essential for normal development of the blood-brain barrier. If antibiotics, or food items which have antibiotics, are taken while a woman is pregnant, they could result in defective blood-brain barrier formation in the child. Further research into the link between microbes and normal blood-brain barrier development could lead to possible cures for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, which involves unexplained mechanisms that make the brain more vulnerable to damage.

Tired Body, Active Brain

Improve-Your-Sleep-806x393

Original post can be found at:

http://xactmind.com/xc/articles/tired-body-active-brain/

By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro

Where Is The Off Switch?

Have you ever been so wound up with thoughts or concerns that your brain refused to allow you to fall into blissful sleep? As long as your emotions are influenced by excessive amounts of stress, the pressure will continue to spark anxiety which will continue to rob you of sleep, even if your body is completely wiped out. A vicious cycle of insomnia not only prevents the body from getting the restorative sleep it needs, it can contribute to depression or panic disorder.

People are so busy these days that it can be a challenge to check off everything on to-do lists, so it is rather common to see folks working right up until bedtime. However, if you are having problems turning off your thoughts at night, you must break this habit and allow yourself to calm your mind in preparation for sleep. That means you need to avoid activities like housework, checking emails, paying bills, or any other activity which keeps your mind active, for at least an hour before your usual bedtime.

Anxiety and Sleep

What fuels the mind and makes it work overtime in the majority of cases is anxiety. The bed is supposed to be a place for sleep, yet many individuals lie in bed with thoughts spilling over, and are unable to get the thoughts to cease because they provoke anxiety. The chances of solving any problems while trying to fall asleep are slim, so the constant worrying only serves to interrupt much-needed sleep. Honestly, how often have you been able to solve an issue you were worried about, after you crawled in bed? Your mind will be better equipped to solve any issues which plague you if you shut off your thoughts and allow the restorative benefits of sleep to take over.

Go To Paradise

Try redirecting your thoughts by practicing guided imagery. While lying in bed, close your eyes and imagine a beautiful place, such as a tropical paradise. Breathe slowly and evenly, while imagining hearing the waves crash on the beach, and feeling the sand and the warmth of the sun. You can even play ambient sounds of the ocean to help you visualize the scene. This relaxation technique can be extremely effective in not only shutting off the endless chatter in your brain, but also in getting you to fall asleep.

If you are concerned that ideas or concerns will pop into your head in the middle of the night, keep a notebook and a pen next to your bed. Once you write something down, put the notebook away and let it go. Remember that it really can wait until tomorrow.