Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions

Before I was licensed I was the director of a Rape Trauma program and initially trained in what was called “Immersion Therapy” – Trauma survivors were suppose to tell and retell and retell their trauma experience until the trauma had “lost” it’s emotional impact.  After only a few sessions, watching clients get worse,  I knew there needed to be a better way so I studied alternate treatments that did not re-tramautize people. 

This experience was invaluable to both me professionally and the people who came to see me during my psychotherapy career.  I  successfully treated people with all manners of traumatic experiences from being in airplane crashes to buried alive.  Although I’m no longer in practice, trauma research still interests me.

Reading this study about how it might be better NOT to sleep after a traumatic event got my attention.  (jw)

Sleeping after a traumatic event might lock in bad memories and emotions.

“Researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst asked more than 100 healthy adults to rate their emotional responses to a series of images, some depicting unsettling scenes. Twelve hours later, they rated the images again. The difference: Half of the subjects slept during the break; the other half did not.”

“Not only did sleep protect the memory, but it also protected the emotional reaction,” said Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist at UMass Amherst and co-author of the study that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.
Study subjects who stayed awake for 12 hours had a weaker emotional response to the unsettling images the second time around, suggesting sleep serves to preserve and even amplify negative emotions. Their memories were also weaker than those of their well-rested counterparts, as they struggled to remember whether they had seen the images before.

“It’s true that ‘sleeping on it’ is usually a good thing to do,” said Spencer, citing evidence that sleep boosts memory and other cognitive functions. “It’s just when something truly traumatic or out of the ordinary happens that you might want to stay awake.”

Spencer said people often find it difficult to sleep after a traumatic event.
“This study suggests the biological response we have after trauma might actually be a healthy, she said. “Perhaps letting people go through a period of insomnia before feeding them sleeping meds is actually beneficial.”
While the findings may have implications for post traumatic stress disorder, Spencer emphasized that daily emotional ups and downs are not grounds for sleep deprivation.”

Just because we have a bad day doesn’t mean we should stay awake,” she said. “We need to maintain some memories and emotional context to know what to avoid. We do learn something from them.”

Although sleep gives the body some much-needed rest, the brain stays active. Spencer used polysomnography to monitor brain activity in some sleeping subjects.
“REM sleep in particular was associated with a change in how emotional you found something,” she said. “We think there are parts of the brain being activated during sleep that allow us to process those emotions more than during day.”

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

How to keep optimistic in face of reality

This was of personal interest to me given that the last several days I wasn’t feeling very optimistic.  Seems my brain’s left inferior frontal gyrus was not gyrating. (jw)

P.S.  Be patient while the video loads.  If you don’t like what Tali says you will like how she looks (certainly not like a stereo-type neuroscientist).

“Optimism bias is the belief that the future will be better, much better, than the past or present. And most of us display this bias. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot wants to know why: What is it about our brains that makes us overestimate the positive?

Tali Sharot, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

In the book, Sharot reviewed findings from both social science and neuroscience that point to an interesting conclusion: “Our brains aren’t just stamped by the past. They are constantly being shaped by the future.”

In her own work, Sharot is interested in how our natural optimism actually shapes what we remember, and her interesting range of papers encompasses behavioral research (how likely we are to misremember major events) as well as medical findings — like searching for the places in the brain where optimism lives. Sharot is a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences at University College London.”

Your Brain is not pink or blue. It’s Purple?

According to Lise Eliot, a professor of neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School and the author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, anyone who goes searching for innate differences between the sexes won’t find them.

“. . . the brain is a unisex organ. We have the exact same structures,” There is absolutely no difference between male and female brains. . . . Male and female brains are not much [more] different from each other than male or female hearts or kidneys.”

Purple Brain by Peggy, not Prince

Eliot said neuroscientists have yet to find a single circuit that’s wired differently between men and women, and that differences between sexes are best explained by nurture, not nature.

“We keep looking for a biological difference, finding it, it inevitably gets discredited, and yet we still seem so eager to find another one,” she said. Eliot blames academia and the media in part for this cycle. Because most scholars know that any small statistical difference between men and women will make headlines, academics, desperate for funding and attention, often focus studies on gender disparities. “You go back to data, analyze it for sex, and if you find a difference, then guess what: You have another paper,” Eliot said.

She said that even scientifically indisputable differences, such as the oft-cited statistic that male brains are 10 percent bigger than female brains, don’t mean anything. All of men’s organs are bigger on average, but that doesn’t mean they function differently.

Eliot said that it’s important to debunk efforts to prove that female brains are different if we want to disrupt current power structures. If scientists and academics were to begin with the premise that men and women are equally capable, their studies would result in radically different conclusions.

A 1970 study that showed men outperformed women 13 to one on the math portion of the SAT was used to explain why there aren’t more women at the top of stem fields. “People said brilliance in math is a male phenomenon,” Eliot said.

“. . .  it turned out women were being discouraged from pursuing STEM. Once more programs were put in place to foster this type of learning, the ratio dropped to 3 to 1, Eliot said, and is now on its way to closing.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/06/there-is-no-biological-difference-between-male-and-female-brains/563702/

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Eat as much as you want, just not WHAT you want

A standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume. In a new study, published in JAMA*, people who ate lots of vegetables and whole foods rather than processed ones lost weight without worrying about calories or portion size.

It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

“The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. . . .. their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.”

The study compared  how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets . . .  and tested the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. (A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.)

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels,

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

They did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.”

Read the New York Times story

*led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

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A Happiness Hack You Already Do . . . like breathe

We’re excited to let you know that we are compiling all the Happiness Hacks we’ve posted.  For this “hack” every single one of you has all the equipment you need: 

A pair of healthy lungs and an unclogged nose.

Slow, deep breathing hacks your brain’s chemistry, resets the autonomic nervous system and activates the parasympathetic nervous system that calms and relaxes the body.

Nasal Breathing – Inhale and exhale through your nose*

  • Inhale deeply for a count of four,
  • Exhale for a count of four
  • Repeat 4 times

(Can’t get easier than this IF you know how to breathe and count to 4) 

*Nasal breathing is better than mouth breathing: Your lungs extract oxygen from the air and the absorption of oxygen happens mostly on exhalation. Exhaling through the nose (because it’s smaller than your mouth) creates greater air pressure and therefore a slower exhalation.  Your lungs get extra time to extract a greater amount of oxygen.

Inhale . . . . . . . . . . . Exhale. . . . . . .  by Peggy

Diaphragmatic breathing is the best known and one of the most powerful breath exercises to reduce the stress response, get oxygen flowing to your brain and in your body.  Here’s how:

Longer, deeper breaths into your abdomen, slows your heart rate and activates the calming, parasympathetic nervous system.

  • To feel your diaphragm move as you breathe place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your ribs.
  • Take slow, full breaths

(your hand moves in and out with each breath).

  • Inhale slowly through your nose, expanding your diaphragm
  • Exhale slowly through your nose (or mouth) and tighten your diaphragm

(just like squeezing a lemon to get all the juice out)

  • The hand on your upper chest should remain as still as possible throughout.

It may take you a bit of effort at first to do this cuz it ain’t the usual way you breathe.

With continued practice, diaphragmatic breathing AND HAPPINESS will become easier, Easier, EASIER.

After you get the hang of it, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing and feeling HAPPY  . . . without using your hand. (You can do this anywhere, anytime – lying down, sitting at the opera, standing in a check-out line . . . ).

 

 

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Love Drugs (literally)

Love potions have been a plot point in fairytales for centuries.

Now, thanks to dramatic advances in our understanding of the neuroscience behind love, they’re close enough to reality to be studied by Oxford University researchers. Anders Sandberg, a neuroethicist at Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute,  He says that while we can’t buy romance pills yet, it’s only a matter of years before they exist. His work combines neuroscience and philosophy to unpack the ethical consequences of such pills, and just how they’ll fit into our lives.

“All our emotions are built on the foundations of neuroscience,” Sandberg says—whether that’s fear or anger or love. Recently, neuroscientists have begun to map out just what happens in the brain when we’re in love, bringing us closer to artificially recreating those neurochemical processes. “While there’s still not anything you can find in the supermarket or approved, we’re getting towards the point where they probably will show up,” he says.

Images of the brain show that love is, well, extremely complicated. Different parts are involved in the initial lustful attraction, the rush of falling in love, and the commitment and affection of long-term love. Romance drugs are most likely to focus on the last, long term part.

Different from the love potion of song that you drink, then fall in love with the next person you see.Ethically it would be worrisome for that to happen. A love drug may come to be something you take with someone, to keep or enhance your love. 

Oxytocin is key

The brain system which determines long term commitment was discovered first in prairie voles. One species is monogamous and another closely related one is promiscuous. It turns out that the differences in their oxytocin systems is behind the different behaviors. Oxytocin helps couples stay together. Not just in voles, as neuroimaging studies in humans who say they are in love also show that oxytocin is the key element.

Drugs are already available to release oxytocin, (some are not legal), and experimentation of new substances such as MDMA and ayahuasca, an Amazonian hallucinogenic.  Sandberg says  “Ecstasy is not implausible.” 

Sandberg thinks the drugs we have now do not last long enough to be effective at improving romance. “You probably want to teach your brain to produce oxytocin when you actually meet your partner,” he explains. “You want to teach the brain: This is the person I’m together with.”

We also need to ask ourselves if we want to fool with love? Maybe fading love is telling us something important that we need to pay attention to.

In some senses,though,  we already interfere with the pathways of long-term love, argues Sandberg.

  • “Should people having trouble in a relationship go to a marriage counselor?” he asks.
  • “Shouldn’t a marriage just fall apart naturally?…
  • If someone goes away on a romantic holiday that costs a lot of money and comes back with a better marriage, we’d probably say, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’”

“But surely there’s a clear line between medicalization and other means of improving a marriage, just as in sports there’s a difference between physical training and using drugs to boost performance? Well, the key concern in the sporting analogy is cheating, says Sandberg. Cheating in how you fall in love doesn’t make much sense: “Could you look at a married couple and say, ‘They cheated”?” he asks. “‘They’re deeply in love but they got to that state in the wrong way. Ha, those losers.’”

The question is would these drugs be good to have. Romantic love can be wonderful, but it isn’t always positive. In fact, maybe drugs that inhibit romantic love would be useful, for example, in letting people leave an abusive relationship.Or even just to ease that heartbreak of a failed relationship. 

“Beyond the requisite drug trials and safety questions, these ethical concerns are likely to delay the introduction of love drugs. “I think in many ways, the drugs might be the easy part,” Sandberg says. “Figuring out how they actually fit into our lives is going to be the great challenge.”’

“Love drugs” will soon be a reality. But should we take them?