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Cleaning your mattress is not an everyday chore. But when it’s time, make sure you avoid these common mistakes.

There really isn’t anything better than coming back to a fresh, clean home. Especially after a long day of work. Knowing you can jump into a well-kept bed makes a deep sleep come easy.

However, maintaining a clean home requires a high level of attention to detail. It may be easy to remember to take the necessary steps to clean your carpet or sofa for dust mites and other contaminants, but when was the last time you gave the same attention to your mattress?

After all, your mattress plays one of the largest roles in achieving a good night’s sleep. What people do not realize when is that people are making mistakes that are preventing them from achieving a truly clean mattress.

These common mattress cleaning mistakes are causing people to suffer from a dirty mattress and a rough night’s sleep. When cleaning your mattress, make sure to avoid the following mistakes.

1) Using water

A spilled drink on your mattress is going to happen. Especially if you enjoy a late night glass of wine (or three) while lying in bed late at night binge watching Netflix.

If you have children in your home, a liquid stain on your mattress is almost a guarantee. People will typically rush to grab some water and soap to remove the stains, but wetting your mattress should be avoided at all costs! Mattress manufacturers will specifically warn about the damage it may cause to the mattresses upholstery.

This is especially important to know about if you have a young child or pet spending time in your bed, because you are likely going to deal with something far worse than a spilled glass of wine.

I am talking about urine stains. If your pet or young child has an accident in your bed, it is important to start by blotting away any excess fluid and then spray the spot with an enzyme based cleaning product.

You can eliminate any lingering odors by letting baking soda sit in the spot overnight and then vacuuming it up.

2) Using a beater

While whacking your mattress repeatedly with a beater may work well as for aggression therapy, it is not as effective for freeing your mattress of dust mites or bugs as homeowners may think.

A much more effective alternative would be to get a bed and upholstery vacuum cleaner to collect dust. After you have used the vacuum to remove dust or bugs from your mattress, feel free to take a beater to your mattress for stress relief.

3) Using a multi-purpose vacuum

You can’t just use any normal vacuum cleaner for on your bed or mattress. The typical multi-purpose vacuums are not built for handling your bed and upholstery. While multi-purpose vacuums can be effective for cleaning up your sofa, floor or other household furnishing your mattress will see much better results with a specific cleaning attachment built for mattresses and bed upholstery.

4) Steam cleaning

Steam cleaners do well when it comes to grease stain removal or any stains on a hard service. Most steam cleaners will even market themselves as having disinfectant qualities for killing bacteria or other various pollutants.

This is not true when a steam cleaner is applied to your mattress. In fact, the moisture from the steam can promote an environment where mold and other infestations can thrive, resulting in the opposite results of what you set out for in the first place.

Also, you are not going to enjoy sleeping on a moist mattress at night.

If you have made the mistake of using a steam cleaner for your mattress already and are struggling with mold and mildew, you can still remove it!

You must first eliminate the damp environment, so if you can, take the mattress outside to dry in the sun. Wipe off any visible mildew once the mattress is outside, but be very careful!

Next vacuum both sides of the mattress (with a vacuum that has the appropriate cleaning head attached). Once finished, dispose of your vacuum filter. Now you should mix warm water and isopropyl alcohol and a sponge onto your mattress. Rinse with a light amount of warm water, remember, you do not want to damage the upholstery! Finally, kill any remaining spores by using a disinfectant like Lysol and sleep easy know your mattress is mildew free!

In The End

If you want to maintain a clean and contaminant free mattress, it is essential you avoid the common misconceptions for cleaning methods mentioned above.

Indoor pollution takes a toll on your mattress and effectively cleaning it requires the proper methods. Otherwise you will end up with damaged upholstery, lingering odors or mildew.

Avoid losing sleep from these common mistakes and take proper cleaning care of your bed or mattress.

About the author

Carvin Wheeling is a content writer for Mattress Direct Warehouse, a local mattress store in sunny Phoenix, AZ. He is a thrifty shopper who enjoys sharing his knowledge with people who are serious about spending less on high quality items.

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Using sleep deprivation to lift people out of severe depression may seem counterintuitive, but for some people, it’s the only thing that works. Linda Geddes reports. Staying awake: the surprisingly effective way to treat depression

The first sign that something is happening is Angelina’s hands. As she chats to the nurse in Italian, she begins to gesticulate, jabbing, moulding and circling the air with her fingers. As the minutes pass and Angelina becomes increasingly animated, I notice a musicality to her voice that I’m sure wasn’t there earlier. The lines in her forehead seem to be softening, and the pursing and stretching of her lips and the crinkling of her eyes tell me as much about her mental state as any interpreter could.

Angelina is coming to life, precisely as my body is beginning to shut down. It’s 2am, and we’re sat in the brightly lit kitchen of a Milanese psychiatric ward, eating spaghetti. There’s a dull ache behind my eyes, and I keep on zoning out, but Angelina won’t be going to bed for at least another 17 hours, so I’m steeling myself for a long night. In case I doubted her resolve, Angelina removes her glasses, looks directly at me, and uses her thumbs and forefingers to pull open the wrinkled, grey-tinged skin around her eyes. “Occhi aperti,” she says. Eyes open.

This is the second night in three that Angelina has been deliberately deprived of sleep. For a person with bipolar disorder who has spent the past two years in a deep and crippling depression, it may sound like the last thing she needs, but Angelina – and the doctors treating her – hope it will be her salvation.

For two decades, Francesco Benedetti, who heads the psychiatry and clinical psychobiology unit at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, has been investigating so-called wake therapy, in combination with bright light exposure and lithium, as a means of treating depression where drugs have often failed.

As a result, psychiatrists in the USA, the UK and other European countries are starting to take notice, launching variations of it in their own clinics. These ‘chronotherapies’ seem to work by kick-starting a sluggish biological clock; in doing so, they’re also shedding new light on the underlying pathology of depression, and on the function of sleep more generally.

“Sleep deprivation really has opposite effects in healthy people and those with depression,” says Benedetti. If you’re healthy and you don’t sleep, you’ll feel in a bad mood. But if you’re depressed, it can prompt an immediate improvement in mood, and in cognitive abilities. But, Benedetti adds, there’s a catch: once you go to sleep and catch up on those missed hours of sleep, you’ll have a 95 per cent chance of relapse.

The antidepressant effect of sleep deprivation was first published in a report in Germany in 1959. This captured the imagination of a young researcher from Tübingen in Germany, Burkhard Pflug, who investigated the effect in his doctoral thesis and in subsequent studies during the 1970s. By systematically depriving depressed people of sleep, he confirmed that spending a single night awake could jolt them out of depression.

Benedetti became interested in this idea as a young psychiatrist in the early 1990s. Prozac had been launched just a few years earlier, hailing a revolution in the treatment of depression. But such drugs were rarely tested on people with bipolar disorder. Bitter experience has since taught Benedetti that antidepressants are largely ineffective for people with bipolar depression anyway.

His patients were in desperate need of an alternative, and his supervisor, Enrico Smeraldi, had an idea up his sleeve. Having read some of the early papers on wake therapy, he tested their theories on his own patients, with positive results. “We knew it worked,” says Benedetti. “Patients with these terrible histories were getting well immediately. My task was finding a way of making them stay well.”

So he and his colleagues turned to the scientific literature for ideas. A handful of American studies had suggested that lithium might prolong the effect of sleep deprivation, so they investigated that. They found that 65 per cent of patients taking lithium showed a sustained response to sleep deprivation when assessed after three months, compared to just 10 per cent of those not taking the drug.

Since even a short nap could undermine the efficacy of the treatment, they also started searching for new ways of keeping patients awake at night, and drew inspiration from aviation medicine, where bright light was being used to keep pilots alert. This too extended the effects of sleep deprivation, to a similar extent as lithium.

“We decided to give them the whole package, and the effect was brilliant,” says Benedetti. By the late 1990s, they were routinely treating patients with triple chronotherapy: sleep deprivation, lithium and light. The sleep deprivations would occur every other night for a week, and bright light exposure for 30 minutes each morning would be continued for a further two weeks – a protocol they continue to use to this day. “We can think of it not as sleep-depriving people, but as modifying or enlarging the period of the sleep–wake cycle from 24 to 48 hours,” says Benedetti. “People go to bed every two nights, but when they go to bed, they can sleep for as long as they want.”

San Raffaele Hospital first introduced triple chronotherapy in 1996. Since then, it has treated close to a thousand patients with bipolar depression – many of whom had failed to respond to antidepressant drugs. The results speak for themselves: according to the most recent data, 70 per cent of people with drug-resistant bipolar depression responded to triple chronotherapy within the first week, and 55 per cent had a sustained improvement in their depression one month later.

And whereas antidepressants – if they work – can take over a month to have an effect, and can increase the risk of suicide in the meantime, chronotherapy usually produces an immediate and persistent decrease in suicidal thoughts, even after just one night of sleep deprivation.

Angelina was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 30 years ago, when she was in her late 30s. The diagnosis followed a period of intense stress: her husband was facing a tribunal at work, and they were worried about having enough money to support themselves and the kids. Angelina fell into a depression that lasted nearly three years. Since then, her mood has oscillated, but she’s down more often than not. She takes an arsenal of drugs – antidepressants, mood stabilisers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping tablets – which she dislikes because they make her feel like a patient, even though she acknowledges this is what she is.

If I’d met her three days ago, she says, it’s unlikely I would have recognised her. She didn’t want to do anything, she’d stopped washing her hair or wearing make-up, and she stank. She also felt very pessimistic about the future. After her first night of sleep deprivation, she’d felt more energetic, but this largely subsided after her recovery sleep. Even so, today she felt motivated enough to visit a hairdresser in anticipation of my visit. I compliment her appearance, and she pats her dyed, golden waves, thanking me for noticing.

At 3am, we move to the light room, and entering is like being transported forward to midday. Bright sunlight streams in through the skylights overhead, falling on five armchairs, which are lined up against the wall. This is an illusion, of course – the blue sky and brilliant sun are nothing more than coloured plastic and a very bright light – but the effect is exhilarating nonetheless. I could be sitting on a sun lounger at midday; the only thing missing is the heat.

When I’d interviewed her seven hours earlier, with the help of an interpreter, Angelina’s face had remained expressionless as she’d replied. Now, at 3.20am, she is smiling, and even beginning to initiate a conversation with me in English, which she’d claimed not to speak. By dawn, Angelina’s telling me about the family history she’s started writing, which she’d like to pick up again, and inviting me to stay with her in Sicily.

How could something as simple as staying awake overnight bring about such a transformation? Unpicking the mechanism isn’t straightforward: we still don’t fully understand the nature of depression or the function of sleep, both of which involve multiple areas of the brain. But recent studies have started to yield some insights.

The brain activity of people with depression looks different during sleep and wakefulness than that of healthy people. During the day, wake-promoting signals coming from the circadian system – our internal 24-hour biological clock – are thought to help us resist sleep, with these signals being replaced by sleep-promoting ones at night. Our brain cells work in cycles too, becoming increasingly excitable in response to stimuli during wakefulness, with this excitability dissipating when we sleep. But in people with depression and bipolar disorder, these fluctuations appear dampened or absent.

Depression is also associated with altered daily rhythms of hormone secretion and body temperature, and the more severe the illness, the greater the degree of disruption. Like the sleep signals, these rhythms are also driven by the body’s circadian system, which itself is driven by a set of interacting proteins, encoded by ‘clock genes’ that are expressed in a rhythmic pattern throughout the day. They drive hundreds of different cellular processes, enabling them to keep time with one another and turn on and off. A circadian clock ticks in every cell of your body, including your brain cells, and they are coordinated by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which responds to light.

“When people are seriously depressed, their circadian rhythms tend to be very flat; they don’t get the usual response of melatonin rising in the evening, and the cortisol levels are consistently high rather than falling in the evening and the night,” says Steinn Steingrimsson, a psychiatrist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, who is currently running a trial of wake therapy.

Recovery from depression is associated with a normalisation of these cycles. “I think depression may be one of the consequences of this basic flattening of circadian rhythms and homeostasis in the brain,” says Benedetti. “When we sleep-deprive depressed people, we restore this cyclical process.”

But how does this restoration come about? One possibility is that depressed people simply need added sleep pressure to jump-start a sluggish system. Sleep pressure – our urge to sleep – is thought to arise because of the gradual release of adenosine in the brain. It builds up throughout the day and attaches to adenosine receptors on neurons, making us feel drowsy. Drugs that trigger these receptors have the same effect, whereas drugs that block them – such as caffeine – make us feel more awake.

To investigate whether this process might underpin the antidepressant effects of prolonged wakefulness, researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts took mice with depression-like symptoms and administered high doses of a compound that triggers adenosine receptors, mimicking what happens during sleep deprivation. After 12 hours, the mice had improved, measured by how long they spent trying to escape when forced to swim or when suspended by their tails.

We also know sleep deprivation does other things to the depressed brain. It prompts changes in the balance of neurotransmitters in areas that help to regulate mood, and it restores normal activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain, strengthening connections between them.

And as Benedetti and his team discovered, if wake therapy kick-starts a sluggish circadian rhythm, lithium and light therapy seem to help maintain it. Lithium has been used as a mood stabiliser for years without anyone really understanding how it works, but we know it boosts the expression of a protein, called Per2, that drives the molecular clock in cells.

Bright light, meanwhile, is known to alter the rhythms of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, as well as boosting activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain more directly. Indeed, the American Psychiatric Association states that light therapy is as effective as most antidepressants in treating non-seasonal depression.

In spite of its promising results against bipolar disorder, wake therapy has been slow to catch on in other countries. “You could be cynical and say it’s because you can’t patent it,” says David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Certainly, Benedetti has never been offered pharmaceutical funding to carry out his trials of chronotherapy. Instead, he has – until recently – been reliant on government funding, which is often in short supply. His current research is being funded by the EU. Had he followed the conventional route of accepting industry money to run drug trials with his patients, he quips, he probably wouldn’t be living in a two-bedroom apartment and driving a 1998 Honda Civic.

The bias towards pharmaceutical solutions has kept chronotherapy below the radar for many psychiatrists. “A lot of people just don’t know about it,” says Veale.

It’s also difficult to find a suitable placebo for sleep deprivation or bright light exposure, which means that large, randomised placebo-controlled trials of chronotherapy haven’t been done. Because of this, there’s some scepticism about how well it really works. “While there is increasing interest, I don’t think many treatments based on this approach are yet routinely used – the evidence needs to be better and there are some practical difficulties in implementing things like sleep deprivation,” says John Geddes, a professor of epidemiological psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

Even so, interest in the processes underpinning chronotherapy is beginning to spread. “Insights into the biology of sleep and circadian systems are now providing promising targets for treatment development,” says Geddes. “It goes beyond pharmaceuticals – targeting sleep with psychological treatments might also help or even prevent mental disorders.”

In the UK, the USA, Denmark and Sweden, psychiatrists are investigating chronotherapy as a treatment for general depression. “A lot of the studies that have been done so far have been very small,” says Veale, who is currently planning a feasibility study at Maudsley Hospital in London. “We need to demonstrate that it is feasible and that people can adhere to it.”

So far, what studies there have been have produced mixed results. Klaus Martiny, who researches non-drug methods for treating depression at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, has published two trials looking at the effects of sleep deprivation, together with daily morning bright light and regular bedtimes, on general depression. In the first study, 75 patients were given the antidepressant duloxetine, in combination with either chronotherapy or daily exercise. After the first week, 41 per cent of the chronotherapy group had experienced a halving of their symptoms, compared to 13 per cent of the exercise group. And at 29 weeks, 62 per cent of the wake therapy patients were symptom-free, compared to 38 per cent of those in the exercise group.

In Martiny’s second study, severely depressed hospital inpatients who had failed to respond to antidepressant drugs were offered the same chronotherapy package as an add-on to the drugs and psychotherapy they were undergoing. After one week, those in the chronotherapy group improved significantly more than the group receiving standard treatment, although in subsequent weeks the control group caught up.

No one has yet compared wake therapy head-to-head with antidepressants; neither has it been tested against bright light therapy and lithium alone. But even if it’s only effective for a minority, many people with depression – and indeed psychiatrists – may find the idea of a drug-free treatment attractive.

“I’m a pill pusher for a living, and it still appeals to me to do something that doesn’t involve pills,” says Jonathan Stewart, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, who is currently running a wake therapy trial at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Unlike Benedetti, Stewart only keeps patients awake for one night: “I couldn’t see a lot of people agreeing to stay in hospital for three nights, and it also requires a lot of nursing and resources,” he says. Instead, he uses something called sleep phase advance, where on the days after a night of sleep deprivation, the time the patient goes to sleep and wakes up is systematically brought forward. So far, Stewart has treated around 20 patients with this protocol, and 12 have shown a response – most of them during the first week.

It may also work as a prophylactic: recent studies suggest that teenagers whose parents set – and manage to enforce – earlier bedtimes are less at risk of depression and suicidal thinking. Like light therapy and sleep deprivation, the precise mechanism is unclear, but researchers suspect a closer fit between sleep time and the natural light–dark cycle is important.

But sleep phase advance has so far failed to hit the mainstream. And, Stewart accepts, it’s not for everybody. “For those for whom it works, it’s a miracle cure. But just as Prozac doesn’t get everyone better who takes it, neither does this,” he says. “My problem is that I have no idea ahead of time who it’s going to help.”

Depression can strike anyone, but there’s mounting evidence that genetic variations can disrupt the circadian system to make certain people more vulnerable. Several clock gene variations have been associated with an elevated risk of developing mood disorders.

Stress can then compound the problem. Our response to it is largely mediated through the hormone cortisol, which is under strong circadian control, but cortisol itself also directly influences the timing of our circadian clocks. So if you have a weak clock, the added burden of stress could be enough to tip your system over the edge.

Indeed, you can trigger depressive symptoms in mice by repeatedly exposing them to a noxious stimulus, such as an electric shock, from which they can’t escape – a phenomenon called learned helplessness. In the face of this ongoing stress, the animals eventually just give up and exhibit depression-like behaviours. When David Welsh, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, analysed the brains of mice that had depressive symptoms, he found disrupted circadian rhythms in two critical areas of the brain’s reward circuit – a system that’s strongly implicated in depression.

But Welsh has also shown that a disturbed circadian system itself can cause depression-like symptoms. When he took healthy mice and knocked out a key clock gene in the brain’s master clock, they looked just like the depressed mice he’d been studying earlier. “They don’t need to learn to be helpless, they are already helpless,” Welsh says.

So if disrupted circadian rhythms are a likely cause of depression, what can be done to prevent rather than treat them? Is it possible to strengthen your circadian clock to increase psychological resilience, rather than remedy depressive symptoms by forgoing sleep?

Martiny thinks so. He is currently testing whether keeping a more regular daily schedule could prevent his depressed inpatients from relapsing once they’ve recovered and are released from the psychiatric ward. “That’s when the trouble usually comes,” he says. “Once they’re discharged their depression gets worse again.”

Peter is a 45-year-old care assistant from Copenhagen who has battled with depression since his early teens. Like Angelina and many others with depression, his first episode followed a period of intense stress and upheaval. His sister, who more or less brought him up, left home when he was 13, leaving him with an uninterested mother and a father who also suffered from severe depression. Soon after that, his father died of cancer – another shock, as he’d kept his prognosis hidden until the week before his death.

Peter’s depression has seen him hospitalised six times, including for a month last April. “In some ways being in hospital is a relief,” he says. However, he feels guilty about the effect it has on his sons, aged seven and nine. “My youngest boy said he cried every night I was in hospital, because I wasn’t there to hug him.”

So when Martiny told Peter about the study he had just started recruiting for, he readily agreed to participate. Dubbed ‘circadian-reinforcement therapy’, the idea is to strengthen people’s circadian rhythms by encouraging regularity in their sleep, wake, meal and exercise times, and pushing them to spend more time outdoors, exposed to daylight.

For four weeks after leaving the psychiatric ward in May, Peter wore a device that tracked his activity and sleep, and he completed regular mood questionnaires. If there was any deviation in his routine, he would receive a phone call to find out what had happened.

When I meet Peter, we joke about the tan lines around his eyes; obviously, he’s been taking the advice seriously. He laughs: “Yes, I’m getting outdoors to the park, and if it’s nice weather, I take my children to the beach, for walks, or to the playground, because then I will get some light, and that improves my mood.”

Those aren’t the only changes he’s made. He now gets up at 6 every morning to help his wife with the children. Even if he’s not hungry he eats breakfast: typically, yoghurt with muesli. He doesn’t take naps and tries to be in bed by 10pm. If Peter does wake up at night, he practises mindfulness – a technique he picked up in hospital.

Martiny pulls up Peter’s data on his computer. It confirms the shift towards earlier sleep and wake times, and shows an improvement in the quality of his sleep, which is mirrored by his mood scores. Immediately after his release from hospital, these averaged around 6 out of 10. But after two weeks they’d risen to consistent 8s or 9s, and one day, he even managed a 10. At the beginning of June, he returned to his job at the care home, where he works 35 hours a week. “Having a routine has really helped me,” he says.

So far, Martiny has recruited 20 patients to his trial, but his target is 120; it’s therefore too soon to know how many will respond the same way as Peter, or indeed, if his psychological health will be maintained. Even so, there’s mounting evidence that good sleep routine can help our mental wellbeing. According to a study published in Lancet Psychiatry in September 2017 – the largest randomised trial of a psychological intervention to date – insomniacs who underwent a ten-week course of cognitive behavioural therapy to address their sleep problems showed sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences as a result. They also experienced improvements in..

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Using sleep deprivation to lift people out of severe depression may seem counterintuitive, but for some people, it’s the only thing that works. Linda Geddes reports. Staying awake: the surprisingly effective way to treat depression

The first sign that something is happening is Angelina’s hands. As she chats to the nurse in Italian, she begins to gesticulate, jabbing, moulding and circling the air with her fingers. As the minutes pass and Angelina becomes increasingly animated, I notice a musicality to her voice that I’m sure wasn’t there earlier. The lines in her forehead seem to be softening, and the pursing and stretching of her lips and the crinkling of her eyes tell me as much about her mental state as any interpreter could.

Angelina is coming to life, precisely as my body is beginning to shut down. It’s 2am, and we’re sat in the brightly lit kitchen of a Milanese psychiatric ward, eating spaghetti. There’s a dull ache behind my eyes, and I keep on zoning out, but Angelina won’t be going to bed for at least another 17 hours, so I’m steeling myself for a long night. In case I doubted her resolve, Angelina removes her glasses, looks directly at me, and uses her thumbs and forefingers to pull open the wrinkled, grey-tinged skin around her eyes. “Occhi aperti,” she says. Eyes open.

This is the second night in three that Angelina has been deliberately deprived of sleep. For a person with bipolar disorder who has spent the past two years in a deep and crippling depression, it may sound like the last thing she needs, but Angelina – and the doctors treating her – hope it will be her salvation.

For two decades, Francesco Benedetti, who heads the psychiatry and clinical psychobiology unit at San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, has been investigating so-called wake therapy, in combination with bright light exposure and lithium, as a means of treating depression where drugs have often failed.

As a result, psychiatrists in the USA, the UK and other European countries are starting to take notice, launching variations of it in their own clinics. These ‘chronotherapies’ seem to work by kick-starting a sluggish biological clock; in doing so, they’re also shedding new light on the underlying pathology of depression, and on the function of sleep more generally.

“Sleep deprivation really has opposite effects in healthy people and those with depression,” says Benedetti. If you’re healthy and you don’t sleep, you’ll feel in a bad mood. But if you’re depressed, it can prompt an immediate improvement in mood, and in cognitive abilities. But, Benedetti adds, there’s a catch: once you go to sleep and catch up on those missed hours of sleep, you’ll have a 95 per cent chance of relapse.

The antidepressant effect of sleep deprivation was first published in a report in Germany in 1959. This captured the imagination of a young researcher from Tübingen in Germany, Burkhard Pflug, who investigated the effect in his doctoral thesis and in subsequent studies during the 1970s. By systematically depriving depressed people of sleep, he confirmed that spending a single night awake could jolt them out of depression.

Benedetti became interested in this idea as a young psychiatrist in the early 1990s. Prozac had been launched just a few years earlier, hailing a revolution in the treatment of depression. But such drugs were rarely tested on people with bipolar disorder. Bitter experience has since taught Benedetti that antidepressants are largely ineffective for people with bipolar depression anyway.

His patients were in desperate need of an alternative, and his supervisor, Enrico Smeraldi, had an idea up his sleeve. Having read some of the early papers on wake therapy, he tested their theories on his own patients, with positive results. “We knew it worked,” says Benedetti. “Patients with these terrible histories were getting well immediately. My task was finding a way of making them stay well.”

So he and his colleagues turned to the scientific literature for ideas. A handful of American studies had suggested that lithium might prolong the effect of sleep deprivation, so they investigated that. They found that 65 per cent of patients taking lithium showed a sustained response to sleep deprivation when assessed after three months, compared to just 10 per cent of those not taking the drug.

Since even a short nap could undermine the efficacy of the treatment, they also started searching for new ways of keeping patients awake at night, and drew inspiration from aviation medicine, where bright light was being used to keep pilots alert. This too extended the effects of sleep deprivation, to a similar extent as lithium.

“We decided to give them the whole package, and the effect was brilliant,” says Benedetti. By the late 1990s, they were routinely treating patients with triple chronotherapy: sleep deprivation, lithium and light. The sleep deprivations would occur every other night for a week, and bright light exposure for 30 minutes each morning would be continued for a further two weeks – a protocol they continue to use to this day. “We can think of it not as sleep-depriving people, but as modifying or enlarging the period of the sleep–wake cycle from 24 to 48 hours,” says Benedetti. “People go to bed every two nights, but when they go to bed, they can sleep for as long as they want.”

San Raffaele Hospital first introduced triple chronotherapy in 1996. Since then, it has treated close to a thousand patients with bipolar depression – many of whom had failed to respond to antidepressant drugs. The results speak for themselves: according to the most recent data, 70 per cent of people with drug-resistant bipolar depression responded to triple chronotherapy within the first week, and 55 per cent had a sustained improvement in their depression one month later.

And whereas antidepressants – if they work – can take over a month to have an effect, and can increase the risk of suicide in the meantime, chronotherapy usually produces an immediate and persistent decrease in suicidal thoughts, even after just one night of sleep deprivation.

Angelina was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 30 years ago, when she was in her late 30s. The diagnosis followed a period of intense stress: her husband was facing a tribunal at work, and they were worried about having enough money to support themselves and the kids. Angelina fell into a depression that lasted nearly three years. Since then, her mood has oscillated, but she’s down more often than not. She takes an arsenal of drugs – antidepressants, mood stabilisers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping tablets – which she dislikes because they make her feel like a patient, even though she acknowledges this is what she is.

If I’d met her three days ago, she says, it’s unlikely I would have recognised her. She didn’t want to do anything, she’d stopped washing her hair or wearing make-up, and she stank. She also felt very pessimistic about the future. After her first night of sleep deprivation, she’d felt more energetic, but this largely subsided after her recovery sleep. Even so, today she felt motivated enough to visit a hairdresser in anticipation of my visit. I compliment her appearance, and she pats her dyed, golden waves, thanking me for noticing.

At 3am, we move to the light room, and entering is like being transported forward to midday. Bright sunlight streams in through the skylights overhead, falling on five armchairs, which are lined up against the wall. This is an illusion, of course – the blue sky and brilliant sun are nothing more than coloured plastic and a very bright light – but the effect is exhilarating nonetheless. I could be sitting on a sun lounger at midday; the only thing missing is the heat.

When I’d interviewed her seven hours earlier, with the help of an interpreter, Angelina’s face had remained expressionless as she’d replied. Now, at 3.20am, she is smiling, and even beginning to initiate a conversation with me in English, which she’d claimed not to speak. By dawn, Angelina’s telling me about the family history she’s started writing, which she’d like to pick up again, and inviting me to stay with her in Sicily.

How could something as simple as staying awake overnight bring about such a transformation? Unpicking the mechanism isn’t straightforward: we still don’t fully understand the nature of depression or the function of sleep, both of which involve multiple areas of the brain. But recent studies have started to yield some insights.

The brain activity of people with depression looks different during sleep and wakefulness than that of healthy people. During the day, wake-promoting signals coming from the circadian system – our internal 24-hour biological clock – are thought to help us resist sleep, with these signals being replaced by sleep-promoting ones at night. Our brain cells work in cycles too, becoming increasingly excitable in response to stimuli during wakefulness, with this excitability dissipating when we sleep. But in people with depression and bipolar disorder, these fluctuations appear dampened or absent.

Depression is also associated with altered daily rhythms of hormone secretion and body temperature, and the more severe the illness, the greater the degree of disruption. Like the sleep signals, these rhythms are also driven by the body’s circadian system, which itself is driven by a set of interacting proteins, encoded by ‘clock genes’ that are expressed in a rhythmic pattern throughout the day. They drive hundreds of different cellular processes, enabling them to keep time with one another and turn on and off. A circadian clock ticks in every cell of your body, including your brain cells, and they are coordinated by an area of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which responds to light.

“When people are seriously depressed, their circadian rhythms tend to be very flat; they don’t get the usual response of melatonin rising in the evening, and the cortisol levels are consistently high rather than falling in the evening and the night,” says Steinn Steingrimsson, a psychiatrist at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, who is currently running a trial of wake therapy.

Recovery from depression is associated with a normalisation of these cycles. “I think depression may be one of the consequences of this basic flattening of circadian rhythms and homeostasis in the brain,” says Benedetti. “When we sleep-deprive depressed people, we restore this cyclical process.”

But how does this restoration come about? One possibility is that depressed people simply need added sleep pressure to jump-start a sluggish system. Sleep pressure – our urge to sleep – is thought to arise because of the gradual release of adenosine in the brain. It builds up throughout the day and attaches to adenosine receptors on neurons, making us feel drowsy. Drugs that trigger these receptors have the same effect, whereas drugs that block them – such as caffeine – make us feel more awake.

To investigate whether this process might underpin the antidepressant effects of prolonged wakefulness, researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts took mice with depression-like symptoms and administered high doses of a compound that triggers adenosine receptors, mimicking what happens during sleep deprivation. After 12 hours, the mice had improved, measured by how long they spent trying to escape when forced to swim or when suspended by their tails.

We also know sleep deprivation does other things to the depressed brain. It prompts changes in the balance of neurotransmitters in areas that help to regulate mood, and it restores normal activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain, strengthening connections between them.

And as Benedetti and his team discovered, if wake therapy kick-starts a sluggish circadian rhythm, lithium and light therapy seem to help maintain it. Lithium has been used as a mood stabiliser for years without anyone really understanding how it works, but we know it boosts the expression of a protein, called Per2, that drives the molecular clock in cells.

Bright light, meanwhile, is known to alter the rhythms of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, as well as boosting activity in emotion-processing areas of the brain more directly. Indeed, the American Psychiatric Association states that light therapy is as effective as most antidepressants in treating non-seasonal depression.

In spite of its promising results against bipolar disorder, wake therapy has been slow to catch on in other countries. “You could be cynical and say it’s because you can’t patent it,” says David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Certainly, Benedetti has never been offered pharmaceutical funding to carry out his trials of chronotherapy. Instead, he has – until recently – been reliant on government funding, which is often in short supply. His current research is being funded by the EU. Had he followed the conventional route of accepting industry money to run drug trials with his patients, he quips, he probably wouldn’t be living in a two-bedroom apartment and driving a 1998 Honda Civic.

The bias towards pharmaceutical solutions has kept chronotherapy below the radar for many psychiatrists. “A lot of people just don’t know about it,” says Veale.

It’s also difficult to find a suitable placebo for sleep deprivation or bright light exposure, which means that large, randomised placebo-controlled trials of chronotherapy haven’t been done. Because of this, there’s some scepticism about how well it really works. “While there is increasing interest, I don’t think many treatments based on this approach are yet routinely used – the evidence needs to be better and there are some practical difficulties in implementing things like sleep deprivation,” says John Geddes, a professor of epidemiological psychiatry at the University of Oxford.

Even so, interest in the processes underpinning chronotherapy is beginning to spread. “Insights into the biology of sleep and circadian systems are now providing promising targets for treatment development,” says Geddes. “It goes beyond pharmaceuticals – targeting sleep with psychological treatments might also help or even prevent mental disorders.”

In the UK, the USA, Denmark and Sweden, psychiatrists are investigating chronotherapy as a treatment for general depression. “A lot of the studies that have been done so far have been very small,” says Veale, who is currently planning a feasibility study at Maudsley Hospital in London. “We need to demonstrate that it is feasible and that people can adhere to it.”

So far, what studies there have been have produced mixed results. Klaus Martiny, who researches non-drug methods for treating depression at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, has published two trials looking at the effects of sleep deprivation, together with daily morning bright light and regular bedtimes, on general depression. In the first study, 75 patients were given the antidepressant duloxetine, in combination with either chronotherapy or daily exercise. After the first week, 41 per cent of the chronotherapy group had experienced a halving of their symptoms, compared to 13 per cent of the exercise group. And at 29 weeks, 62 per cent of the wake therapy patients were symptom-free, compared to 38 per cent of those in the exercise group.

In Martiny’s second study, severely depressed hospital inpatients who had failed to respond to antidepressant drugs were offered the same chronotherapy package as an add-on to the drugs and psychotherapy they were undergoing. After one week, those in the chronotherapy group improved significantly more than the group receiving standard treatment, although in subsequent weeks the control group caught up.

No one has yet compared wake therapy head-to-head with antidepressants; neither has it been tested against bright light therapy and lithium alone. But even if it’s only effective for a minority, many people with depression – and indeed psychiatrists – may find the idea of a drug-free treatment attractive.

“I’m a pill pusher for a living, and it still appeals to me to do something that doesn’t involve pills,” says Jonathan Stewart, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, who is currently running a wake therapy trial at New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Unlike Benedetti, Stewart only keeps patients awake for one night: “I couldn’t see a lot of people agreeing to stay in hospital for three nights, and it also requires a lot of nursing and resources,” he says. Instead, he uses something called sleep phase advance, where on the days after a night of sleep deprivation, the time the patient goes to sleep and wakes up is systematically brought forward. So far, Stewart has treated around 20 patients with this protocol, and 12 have shown a response – most of them during the first week.

It may also work as a prophylactic: recent studies suggest that teenagers whose parents set – and manage to enforce – earlier bedtimes are less at risk of depression and suicidal thinking. Like light therapy and sleep deprivation, the precise mechanism is unclear, but researchers suspect a closer fit between sleep time and the natural light–dark cycle is important.

But sleep phase advance has so far failed to hit the mainstream. And, Stewart accepts, it’s not for everybody. “For those for whom it works, it’s a miracle cure. But just as Prozac doesn’t get everyone better who takes it, neither does this,” he says. “My problem is that I have no idea ahead of time who it’s going to help.”

Depression can strike anyone, but there’s mounting evidence that genetic variations can disrupt the circadian system to make certain people more vulnerable. Several clock gene variations have been associated with an elevated risk of developing mood disorders.

Stress can then compound the problem. Our response to it is largely mediated through the hormone cortisol, which is under strong circadian control, but cortisol itself also directly influences the timing of our circadian clocks. So if you have a weak clock, the added burden of stress could be enough to tip your system over the edge.

Indeed, you can trigger depressive symptoms in mice by repeatedly exposing them to a noxious stimulus, such as an electric shock, from which they can’t escape – a phenomenon called learned helplessness. In the face of this ongoing stress, the animals eventually just give up and exhibit depression-like behaviours. When David Welsh, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, analysed the brains of mice that had depressive symptoms, he found disrupted circadian rhythms in two critical areas of the brain’s reward circuit – a system that’s strongly implicated in depression.

But Welsh has also shown that a disturbed circadian system itself can cause depression-like symptoms. When he took healthy mice and knocked out a key clock gene in the brain’s master clock, they looked just like the depressed mice he’d been studying earlier. “They don’t need to learn to be helpless, they are already helpless,” Welsh says.

So if disrupted circadian rhythms are a likely cause of depression, what can be done to prevent rather than treat them? Is it possible to strengthen your circadian clock to increase psychological resilience, rather than remedy depressive symptoms by forgoing sleep?

Martiny thinks so. He is currently testing whether keeping a more regular daily schedule could prevent his depressed inpatients from relapsing once they’ve recovered and are released from the psychiatric ward. “That’s when the trouble usually comes,” he says. “Once they’re discharged their depression gets worse again.”

Peter is a 45-year-old care assistant from Copenhagen who has battled with depression since his early teens. Like Angelina and many others with depression, his first episode followed a period of intense stress and upheaval. His sister, who more or less brought him up, left home when he was 13, leaving him with an uninterested mother and a father who also suffered from severe depression. Soon after that, his father died of cancer – another shock, as he’d kept his prognosis hidden until the week before his death.

Peter’s depression has seen him hospitalised six times, including for a month last April. “In some ways being in hospital is a relief,” he says. However, he feels guilty about the effect it has on his sons, aged seven and nine. “My youngest boy said he cried every night I was in hospital, because I wasn’t there to hug him.”

So when Martiny told Peter about the study he had just started recruiting for, he readily agreed to participate. Dubbed ‘circadian-reinforcement therapy’, the idea is to strengthen people’s circadian rhythms by encouraging regularity in their sleep, wake, meal and exercise times, and pushing them to spend more time outdoors, exposed to daylight.

For four weeks after leaving the psychiatric ward in May, Peter wore a device that tracked his activity and sleep, and he completed regular mood questionnaires. If there was any deviation in his routine, he would receive a phone call to find out what had happened.

When I meet Peter, we joke about the tan lines around his eyes; obviously, he’s been taking the advice seriously. He laughs: “Yes, I’m getting outdoors to the park, and if it’s nice weather, I take my children to the beach, for walks, or to the playground, because then I will get some light, and that improves my mood.”

Those aren’t the only changes he’s made. He now gets up at 6 every morning to help his wife with the children. Even if he’s not hungry he eats breakfast: typically, yoghurt with muesli. He doesn’t take naps and tries to be in bed by 10pm. If Peter does wake up at night, he practises mindfulness – a technique he picked up in hospital.

Martiny pulls up Peter’s data on his computer. It confirms the shift towards earlier sleep and wake times, and shows an improvement in the quality of his sleep, which is mirrored by his mood scores. Immediately after his release from hospital, these averaged around 6 out of 10. But after two weeks they’d risen to consistent 8s or 9s, and one day, he even managed a 10. At the beginning of June, he returned to his job at the care home, where he works 35 hours a week. “Having a routine has really helped me,” he says.

So far, Martiny has recruited 20 patients to his trial, but his target is 120; it’s therefore too soon to know how many will respond the same way as Peter, or indeed, if his psychological health will be maintained. Even so, there’s mounting evidence that good sleep routine can help our mental wellbeing. According to a study published in Lancet Psychiatry in September 2017 – the largest randomised trial of a psychological intervention to date – insomniacs who underwent a ten-week course of cognitive behavioural therapy to address their sleep problems showed sustained reductions in paranoia and hallucinatory experiences as a result. They also experienced improvements in..

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Last updated on February 9th, 2018

Sleep Junkies talks with Julian Jagtenberg, co-founder of Dutch startup Somnox about sleep, design, and robotic bed companions. The robots are coming…..

..to take our jobs, drive our cars…. yadda yadda…. you’ve heard it all before.

But  it’s not just sci-fi speculation. In case you didn’t get the memo, they’re already here, and they’re not going way soon.

So if we can’t avoid the rise of the robots, then surely, rather than trying to resist, we should be trying to embrace them?

One startup has taken this concept quite literally. Hailing from the Netherlands, Somnox not only wants us to envision a world where humans and machines become companions – they want us to go to bed with our robots.

The birth of the sleep robot

The brainchild of 4 ambitious engineering students, Somnox a Dutch startup has created a brand new product category in the fast-moving world of consumer digital health – the sleep robot. Co-founder Julian Jagtenberg explains;

JJ: We decided to go for the name sleep robot because first of all we are very passionate about robotics we didn’t want to make another smart pillow or smart mattress.  I hate those kind of terms – I like robots.

We want to make sleep robots  a new product category just like the iPod or Walkman – we want to end up in the dictionary… and the ‘sleep robot’ becomes a thing.

So how did the idea come about?

JJ:So it all started in 2015 where we were a group of four engineers scattered in the robotics Institute of the University of Technology of Delft and we were facing a personal frustration…. sleep deprivation – so in my case it was my own mom but within the team there were insomniacs themselves.

Therefore we decided since we were in a robotics Institute to challenge ourselves and build a robot to do the job instead of the sleeping pill so that was basically the vision of how robotics and sleep came together.

Somnox - world's first sleep robot to improve sleep - YouTube

But considering the bedroom is our most intimate private space, and robots are mostly considered as cold, mechanical, impersonal creations, why did the founders take the gamble that people would want to bring a robot into their beds?

JJ:So first of all robotics in the media are always associated with things that take our jobs, that are harmful … not necessarily positive.  If you think of the term robotics you probably think of the Terminator or a metal man. We believe in soft robotics which is a totally different kind of category within the robotics theme.

It’s about robotics that you can cuddle,  that you can touch that you can interact with that are not dangerous. It’s relatively new and we think that it’s inevitable they will enter our households and our daily life and in our case we are even making sure that you will go to bed with the robots.

The research process

JJ:So we did an extensive literature review and we found that breathing and soothing audio were proven and effective methods to induce sleep and we took that hypothesis and built prototypes to test with bad sleepers to find out if this is actually working could provide value to the people in need.

And just as a note in between there was no business intention at the time, it really was just an academic project to build a prototype that could potentially help people but after we found that it actually did help – then in my case my mom started telling it to her neighbor and their neighbor told their friends and there was this virality going on.

So after the initial publication at the university we got around a thousand emails in one week – people reaching out saying ‘hey we really want to try [your robot]’ and that’s when we decided, okay let’s not leave it in a dusty basement in the university but let’s bring it to all the people in need and help as many people as we can.

So what does the sleep robot actually do?

OK, so we get the concept – a touchy-feely robot to help us get to sleep, but what does it actually do?
Unsurprisingly the sleep robot is packed with lots of tech and sensors, but the primary function of Somnox is a sleep aid that focuses on your breathing.

This idea has been around for thousands of years, but it’s only now in the 21st century, that science is starting to acknowledge the powerful and complex physiological mechanisms that form the basis guided breathing techniques.

Without going in depth into the research (here’s a good round up if you’re interested), the basic principle is that when you consciously adjust your breathing rate, this influences your autonomic nervous system, which in turn can have a calming, relaxing effect on your body and mind.

Somnox showing its breathing rhythm

With Somnox, the idea is that you can achieve the optimum breathing rate for falling asleep by spooning your robot. Yes. It sounds a little kooky at first, but again there’s real efficacy behind the design.

Whilst Somnox is not the only sleep gadget to use guided breathing techniques as a means of promoting sleep (other sleep tech firms like Dodow and 2Breathe employ the same principles), the sleep robot is unique in incorporating the tactile human touch response to induce relaxation and lull you to sleep. As Julian explains:

JJ:What makes Somnox unique compared to the other breathing products is that you can actually feel it breathe. Breathing synchronization is way easier if you actually feel it, rather than by just hearing it, or if you need to look at a light expanding and decreasing.

 You set your personal breathing profiles through the mobile application so you can have a tailored approach for your breathing profile. There are (CO2) sensors in there that can sense when you exhale and inhale. Eventually [via software updates] we want to enable an adaptive feedback loop for breathing as well.

So then let’s say you become you start to breathe very fast very quick like a stress breathing rhythm then the robot will detect that and adapt to that breathing rhythm and then slowly gradually bring you down to way more peaceful and peaceful state of breathing.

We went to bed with Somnox the sleep robot - YouTube
More whistles and bells

There’s a lot more under the hood with Somnox than just guided breathing. There’s also an accelerometer (movement sensor) and microphone, and the company is also looking into heart-beat sensors too. This means Somnox can also in some ways measure the quality of your sleep, although the makers are keen to point out that the sleep robot is not a sleep tracking device per se:

JJ:Yes we don’t even mention measuring [sleep] on our Kickstarter page. It’s hidden in between one of the paragraphs because we think the value is not in measuring sleep, but as an intervention of some sort.

So we’re not pitching it as a tracking device we’re pitching it as a sleep companion that can help you sleep. Rather than having insights in the morning , it’s something that helps you at the moment you need it.

The sleep robot also sports an internal speaker which plays back a soothing heartbeat sound or guided meditation audio tracks which automatically shut off once you’re asleep.

It’s fair to say that the makers are focussing more on their vision of a sleep robot rather than as a single piece of technology.

JJ:People won’t buy it because of the technology,  [but] because they have some kind of relationship or emotional feeling with it and we want to approach them on that rather than the fact we have AI, sensors etc which is what everyone else [in sleep technology] is doing nowadays.

Dealing with criticism

OK, let’s get this out of the way. Yes, Somnox has been designed to be your intimate bed companion, but as you’ve probably gathered by now it has nothing whatsoever to do with the notion of sex robots – the disturbingly flesh-like creations of the sex-industry that have received a lot of press recently.

Still, the idea of taking a robot to bed has certainly raised a few eyebrows in the media. More than one commentator has branded Somnox ‘creepy’, implying that a sleep robot might be some kind of surrogate for a human bed partner, or even an expression of millennial individualism.

JJ:Some people have this association with Somnox as the substitute of a partner or a sex robot if you will, but [the term sleep robot] makes them click.. and when they see what it is they realise it’s very different… the best way to compare it is indeed as a teddy bear for grown-ups.

And if you don’t like it then you don’t but the thing is, that it works really well for people. We have test sleepers that perceive Somnox as a companion as a friend – they give it a name and they perceive it as a little child or a pet. They adore it and  for me it’s the ultimate goal within design and engineering – to reach that point.

My ambition and vision as a designer is not to create products but to create like living beings – companions if you will, and I think that this robot does that.

Somnox’s sleep robot is not going to be for everyone. For one, the price tag (€499  at launch) will be prohibitive for many. Secondly, some people will never be able to contemplate the concept of intimately spooning up to a teddy-bear sized piece of technology every night.

But in terms of innovation and vision, Somnox have created a product that provides a brand new way of tackling the universal issue of insomnia and sleep disorders , without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs. And that can only be a good thing.

Somnox is currently available for pre-order at IndieGogo Demand.

Would you trade your sleeping pill for a robot? appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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With 1 in 5 road accidents being attributed to fatigue, drowsy driving is a significant issue. This interactive game highlights the relationship between your reaction times and the quality of your sleep.

We are frequently warned about the dangers of drink driving and whilst many of us would avoid driving after a night of drinking, very few of us avoid getting behind the wheel after a bad nights sleep.

Although the dangers of drowsy driving aren’t warned about as much as drink driving, being awake for 18 hours is the equivalent to a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08%, which is the drink drive limit in the UK and Ireland. Therefore, driving when tired can be just as dangerous as driving when drunk.

With sleep deprivation having such detrimental effects on our driving, it comes as no surprise that 1 in 5 road accidents are caused by fatigue and with 25% of those being serious, or fatal, it isn’t worth risking your life, or someone else’s, for the sake of driving when tired.

Geraldine Joaquim DSFH HPD, a clinical hypnotherapist, had this to say on the issue of sleep deprivation and reaction times:

“When we’re tired we might start taking micro-sleeps, brief episodes which last up to 30 seconds during which a person temporarily loses consciousness and external stimuli aren’t perceived, which is obviously dangerous if driving, operating machinery, flying a plane or any number of other activities.”

To highlight the effect sleep deprivation can have on our reaction times, Easca Mattress have created an interactive game that tests our reaction times. You can try the game here.

By taking into account the national average stopping distance and thinking time, it predicts whether you could stop in time should you need to.

Although it appears as a fun piece of content, the game has a serious message. It aims to show people the importance of a good nights sleep, especially if you plan to drive the next day, whilst also aiming to deter people from getting behind the wheel when tired.

If you feel fatigued whilst driving, it’s best to pull over, get some fresh air and drink a caffeinated drink but be aware that these are short-term solutions and what you will really need is some sleep. With so many other transport options, it really isn’t worth the risks of drowsy driving.

This interactive game tells you if you’re too tired to drive appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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Here are some  of the best essential oils for sleep and relaxation and the scientific reasons why they are so good at promoting sleep. What are essential oils? Essential oils are versatile natural compounds, usually found in the form of a concentrated liquid. As well as being used in perfumes, soaps and other cosmetic products, essential oils are popular for their natural healing and therapeutic properties, with a long list of uses including inflammation relief and of course, inducing a sweet slumber.

The word essential comes from the fact that the oil is said to contain the ‘essence’ of the plant’s fragrance. Essential oils are used in aromatherapy, a form of alternative medicine whereby healing effects are ascribed to the fragrant compounds found in essential oils and other natural plant extracts.

Although research is still limited, recent studies have shown promising results that aromatherapy may be an effective treatment for a range of sleep disturbances.

Using essential oils for sleep and relaxation may be something you’re unfamiliar with or unsure about but these pleasant and aromatic oils have been used for centuries as a natural sleep aid, to help babies sleep, to ease anxiety and insomnia, and even to relieve the effects of sleep apnea.

This article will give you the information you need to put your mind at ease and give you some solid answers.

Essential oils for sleep and relaxation

Sleep is a necessary activity for not only our productivity, but our health as well, but sometimes falling asleep or getting some quality rest is easier said than done. This is why many people are seeking solutions to help them get more and better sleep at night, and are constantly looking for alternatives to prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids.

Several essential oils have received increased attention over the last twenty years as natural sleep aids with little to no side effects, and many people swear by them, but what is the truth?

Do essential oils actually work, or is it just a bunch of smoke and mirrors?

What does research say about sleep and essential oils?

There have been countless studies on the use of aromatherapy for sleep, and many of them show signs that essential oils do, in fact, help people sleep better.

Take, for instance, this study published in 2013 in PubMed. It looked at the use of essential oils among ICU patients. This particular study showed a significant improvement in patients’ anxiety and sleep quality compared to those receiving conventional nursing intervention.

Then there’s this 2005 study from The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research. This particular study looked at men and women ages 18-30 that were otherwise healthy. The results were an increase in deep and slow-wave sleep, and reduced time to actually fall asleep.

These are just two of the many studies that show the effectiveness of essential oils for better sleep.

How and why do essential oils work?

The olfactory system, or your nose, has the ability to trigger both your autonomic nervous system and your parasympathetic nervous system. These systems have incredible influence on your fight-or-flight responses (autonomic nervous system) as well as relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system).

Essential oils have the ability to trigger these systems, either waking you up or inducing relaxation. How this happens is because of small holes in the skull that connect to your brain, allowing nerves to send signals rapidly to the limbic system and amygdala.

That said, with long list of oils available, which one is the best to help promote sleep?

What are the best essential oils for promoting sleep? 1. Lavender

Lavender is by far the most widely studied and used essential oil for promoting relaxation and sleep, though there are many other oils that may help as well.

The great thing about lavender as a sleep aid is that it is backed by both personal testimonies and professional studies. Many individuals have lauded the oil’s ability to induce restful sleep and there’s no shortage of published studies to support these claims. It has also been shown to have a calming effect, helping to reduce anxiety and easing tension.

2. Roman Chamomile

Roman Chamomile is another well reputed essential oil for sleep and anxiety. Its calming, soothing properties work well on most people, both young and old, to bring a calm state that usually precedes a beautiful slumber.

3. Marjoram

If it is muscle pain, tension, or stomach ache that is keeping you awake, marjoram may be your solution. It’s known for the medicinal benefits (as well as for its use in recipes) that can it can bring by influencing the physiological response your body has to pain.

4. Cedarwood

Cedarwood has the ability to promote the release of serotonin. Not only will this neurotransmitter bring on a feeling of well-being, but it will also be converted into melatonin in the brain. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate sleep and a deficiency of melatonin can lead to restlessness.

5. Sandalwood

The benefits of sandalwood create a large demand for its oil. Because of the inner harmony that it can invoke, it’s been used in religious celebrations and healing for centuries. If you’re feeling restless for reasons unknown, find peace with sandalwood.

6. Valerian

Often used in place of pharmaceutical sleep aids, valerian root has long been a staple sedative. Using this oil can actually increase the levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in your brain. GABA calms your central nervous system which will make your body ready to rest.

7. Bergamot

Bergamot comes from a hybrid citrus fruit. It has been shown to be one of the top solutions for helping to reduce anxiety and works great as a natural sedative. It also helps relax racing and restless thoughts that may plague you and keep you awake.

How to use essential oils to help promote sleep

Methods of use include inhaling the aroma directly from a bottle, or more frequently by adding the oils to a diffuser. While some people like to diffuse oils throughout the night, simply diffusing it for about 30 minutes before you retire works just as well, with additional diffusion not providing any extra benefit.

There are also a few who like to spray a mist including the essential oils on their linens.

Other lifestyle factors to consider

Essential oils are not the cure-all. There are many environmental and lifestyle factors that may also contribute to helping improve your sleep quality. Here are some you may want to consider:

  • Try reducing the amount of caffeine you take in, and keep it to first thing in the morning.
  • Reduce the amount of screen time, of any form, before bed. If possible, try not to have any screen time for about 20 minutes prior to when you want to go to sleep.
  • Reduce stress through exercise and meditation. Continued stress releases additional cortisol in your body, which triggers your fight-or-flight response, and is counterproductive to sleep.
  • Be sure that you do not exercise right before bed. It may seem counterintuitive because you’re thinking exercising will make you tired and ready to sleep, but the endorphins released may actually keep you awake longer.
  • Avoid large meals at least two hours before bed. A light snack 45 minutes before should be fine.
  • Nap early in the day or don’t nap at all.

About the author

Trysh Sutton is a wife, mother, strategic leader and teacher. She runs a website called Pure Path Essential Oils, which is a naturopathic wellness site that promotes healthy living and healing through the use of essential oils and sustainable living.

You can follow her on social media to learn more about the benefits of essential oils, and healthy living practices.

Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram | Youtube | Google Plus

Essential oils for sleep: do they really work? appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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Scandinavian and Nordic culture has gone global in recent years, but the land of the Vikings can teach us a thing or two about sleep as well….

You’ve been infatuated with handsome Vikings on the History Channel; intrigued (and depressed) by Nordic-noir crime novels; you may have been tempted by the avant-garde New Nordic Kitchen or inspired by new books about child-rearing the Scandinavian way.

Travis Fimmel playing Ragnar Lothbrok in History Channel’s Vikings

The cultural exports of the small Nordic countries have certainly been everywhere these last few years. So perhaps now it’s the perfect time to learn about sleep from the Norse?

Several studies have been published recently showing some remarkable results about sleep in the Nordic countries so we’ll take a look at three fascinating questions;

  1. why do the Norse suffer less from SAD and insomnia?
  2. why do the Norse let their children sleep outside in subzero temperatures?
  3. why do the Norse let teenagers sleep late in the morning?
1) Winter depression? Not in Norway

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) more commonly known as ”winter depression”, is a disorder plaguing millions of people on the northern hemisphere.

The symptoms are lethargy, increased need to sleep, insomnia and poor mood. The long-standing theory has been that winter depression was a natural result of less sunlight in the winter.

The body and brain need sunlight to produce two important hormones: melatonin and serotonin, both very important when it comes to regulating mood and sleep.

Why Do We Get the Winter Blues? | Seasonal Affective Disorder - YouTube

However, when Norwegian scientists examined their subjects from the area of Trøndelag , they did not find any evidence of SAD. The incidence of poor mood, bad sleep and insomnia was the same year-round.

This fits with other studies showing that Norwegians don’t struggle with the winter blues as much as other populations. Some of this might simply be genetics, an adaption over thousands of years out of necessity, but some scientists believe mindset might play a role.

Norwegians simply refuse to let the dark, cold weather get them down. Instead, they embrace winter, enthusiastically strapping on skis and skates, spending as much time as they can in the cold, clean winter air. Then back inside for some hot chocolate and bakery around candlelight lit tables.

The Norwegians have a word for this – ”koselig” – which means about the same as the Danish ”hygge” – coziness would be closest English equivalent. Get cozy? Perhaps it’s worth embracing winter instead of dreading it.

2) Sleeping in the cold – is it good for you?

Would you put your baby outside in a stroller in the freezing cold for a nap? Most Nordic mothers wouldn’t think twice about it. Something very strange is happening right now in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen.

Take a stroll near the most popular cafes and restaurants and you will see baby strollers lined up, babies inside, napping serenely in the freezing cold. While the simple act of having your baby be unsupervised on the street, might be enough to get your blood boiling (the Nordic countries are remarkably safe), how about the idea of sub-zero degree napping?

Why newborn babies in Sweden sleep outside in the cold - YouTube

The tradition is actually an old one and has nothing to do with laziness or mean intent by the parents. It is simply a belief that small children who are exposed to fresh, cool air, are at less risk of contracting colds and other diseases.

They say a pound of dirt is good for you and likewise, the Norse believe, a lungful of cold air the same. A Finnish study seems to lend some credence to the practice, noting that children who slept outside napped for considerably longer than inside.

Maybe that explains why Nordic people often sleep with the window open even in subzero temperatures. Of course, should you want to try this particular Nordic fad, remember that warm clothes are an absolute must. Perhaps it’s better to not emulate all that is Nordic.

3) Sleep in, it’s more productive

At least for teens that is.

If you’re a parent to teenage children, you are probably familiar with the difficulties of getting your teen out the door and to school at time in the morning.

Swedish teens are no different, except that in Sweden, the school has taken the consequence and moved school hours to better fit the nocturnal teenagers. Several schools have now moved first lecture from 8am to 9.30am, claiming it has had a positive effect on concentration and productivity.

Teens who don't get enough sleep suffer physical and mental health problems - YouTube

It seems teenagers have good reasons for being grumpy in the morning. In fact teenagers simply have a different biological clock, that can be offset by as much as 3 hours.

This means that getting up in the morning is extraordinarily difficult, when your body wants to stay in bed for several more hours. Scientists recommend that teenagers be allowed to sleep at least 1.5 hours more than adults in the morning, if they are to see the positive effects.

About the author:

Bjørn is a Danish writer and publisher of Sove.nu (https://sove.nu) a Danish website about sleeping better and more comfortable.

Snoozing in Scandinavia: how to sleep like a Viking appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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If you’ve got kids, you’ve probably wondered at some point why so many of their favorite bedtime lullaby have dark undertones.

Merriam-Webster defines a lullaby as “a soothing refrain; specifically: a song to quiet children or lull them to sleep”.

Essentially this means that any song could serve as a lullaby – to be soothing the singer simply has to adjust the pace and rhythm at which the song is sung.

Despite this, throughout history parents across the world have chosen to sing their babies to sleep with a song written precisely for that purpose.

But why?

From some perspectives, lullabies – and the fact we choose to sing them to our children – makes perfect sense. The tone, pace and rhythm of the songs is chosen specifically because it helps babies to sleep. Anyone that has sung one to a baby will likely testify to the fact that it works.

On the other hand, the words of the lullabies themselves are in many cases creepy (at best) and at worst, downright terrifying.

Spanish lullaby ‘Duermete Nino’

Sung to the tune of Rock-a-Bye-Baby the lyrics state that the bogeyman’s coming and in the first verse, that he’s going to take the child, and in the second verse, that he will eat them.

In fact, creatures of the night with an appetite for small children seem to be a running theme in lullabies.

Haitian lullaby ‘Dodo Titit’

This terrifying tale features a child-eating crab. Better yet, the lullaby tells the child that the crab will only eat them if they don’t sleep (what better way to induce insomnia than with the idea that if we can’t nod off, a giant crab will chow down on us for dinner).

So why, then, do songs designed to help children sleep feature lyrics that theoretically, should achieve the exact opposite?

First and foremost, lullabies are typically sung to children that are too young to understand the lyrics. The child only processes the tune. The lyrics are for the benefit of the singer.

This still begs the question of why a parent would want to sing songs in which their beloved child is preyed upon by beings that want to take them, and eat them.

Some believe that lullabies allow parents (mothers, specifically) to ‘sing away their fears’. This makes sense if we think about how much more common childhood death was in years gone by.

Another theory states that the lullabies were a way for parents to ‘sing the unsung’ – in other words, a way for them to express their opinions on society when nobody is listening.

Joanne Loewy, lead author of a 2013 study in paediatrics, specifically described lullabies as “embodying a mother’s fear of loss”. This makes sense when we think of the most likely meaning behind Rock-a-Bye-Baby – a fear of crib death.

Of course, things have changed.

In many cases – at least today – the lyrics may be neither here nor there, with parents singing lullabies simply because they are proven to reduce pain and anxiety in children, and because, well, singing lullabies is just what we do.

What we can safely assume is that the reasons why we sing lullabies; specifically, why we choose to sing lullabies that describe often horrifying events, will be highly personal.

To learn more about some of the world’s most popular – and terrifying – lullabies, including an exploration of the themes and elements they contain, take a look at the content below (originally published by The Mill Shop).


Why are kid’s bedtime lullabies so damn scary? (Infographic) appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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Few things are more frustrating than waking up with back pain every morning. It’s nearly impossible to start the day off on the right foot when you’re in pain. While there’s a myriad of different causes for back pain, have you ever considered there might be a link between mattresses and back pain?

We’re going to take a look at the science surrounding whether mattresses and back pain correlate with each other, and provide you with the info and tips you need to get to the root of your back pain problem today.

What does the science say?

While there is some scientific evidence on this topic, it’s very inconclusive. Much more research is necessary to definitively know exactly how mattresses can cause back pain.

What we do know is that your mattress and sleeping habits can certainly exasperate back pain and make it more difficult to sleep through the night and awake feeling refreshed.

Before you consider replacing your mattress, making changes to your sleeping habits and posture may be helpful. Plus, it’s something you can do right now at little or no cost.

The Rochester University Medical Center suggests that you focus on keeping your spine aligned while you sleep. The right mattress can go a long way in keeping your spine aligned, but you can also achieve this with some extra pillows as well.

New vs old mattresses

When it comes to mattresses and back pain, it does appear that a new bed can have a positive effect on sleep quality, at least compared to your old mattress. This isn’t to say that a new mattress is the answer to all your back pain problems, but research suggests that a brand new mattress may provide more comfort and support than a mattress that’s five years old or more.

It’s easy to see why. Over time, even a high quality mattress will degrade in many ways that can lead to back pain. Mattresses can sag or buckle and develop lumps over time, all of which can contribute to poor quality sleep.

What to look for in a new mattress

When it comes to mattress shopping, there are some major attributes you’ll want to consider before making a decision.

First and foremost, comfort is a significant factor. You need to ensure that the mattress you’re selecting meets your needs from a comfort perspective. But, spend an afternoon shopping for a bed, and you’re likely to find that many mattresses are very comfortable, but some don’t offer the level of support you need.

A supportive mattress will contour to your body and help to keep your spine properly aligned. Keep in mind that support and firmness are not the same things. If you prefer a soft mattress, you should also be able to find a bed that also provides adequate support.

You’ll also want to make sure that the mattress you’re selecting doesn’t create any pressure points, which are a major contributor to back pain. Pressure points occur when one point of the mattress pushes back against your body more than in other areas. These pressure points can push your spine out of alignment, which can lead to chronic back pain.

A final factor to consider is the temperature control and moisture management capabilities of the mattress. A mattress that stays cool and can keep you at an appropriate temperature through the night is a great way to improve your sleep quality. Considering that so many mattresses offer cooling gel tops and other temperature management systems, it’s worth considering them before making your decision.

What’s the best type of mattress for back pain?

Thanks to the popularity of trendy new mattress-in-a-box companies, there are more options than ever when you’re shopping for a new mattress. But, how can you be sure that you’re selecting the best mattress for back pain?

First, you’ll want to keep in mind that everyone’s personal comfort level is different. Some people are more comfortable sleeping on a softer mattress, while some people prefer a mattress that’s more firm.

When you’re shopping for a mattress, your level of comfort should be your biggest concern. A bed that’s comfortable to you will provide you with the best quality sleep, which is ultimately the most critical part of the equation.

As for the science, there’s a lot of static to wade through. Some research has suggested that extra firm mattresses have a negative effect on chronic back pain compared with a softer mattress. Meanwhile, other research suggests that a medium firm mattress is best for alleviating pain.

What we can conclude from this research is that the issue of mattresses and back pain is subjective, and the best way to select the ideal mattress for you is to try multiple mattresses, if possible.

Most manufacturers offer generous at-home trial periods that allow you to trial a mattress for a month or longer before deciding to keep it. While it may be a hassle to buy and try a mattress and end up returning it, it could mean the difference between years of unhappiness and quality, pain-free sleep.

Final word

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, you may want to look closely at your mattress. At best, a poor quality mattress that doesn’t offer adequate support or comfort certainly isn’t making your back pain any better. At worst, your mattress itself may be one of the primary causes of your chronic back pain in the first place.

While the best mattress for you will differ depending on your personal comfort preference and the type of back pain you’re experiencing, one thing is for certain; examining your sleep habits and your mattress may be the best place to start if you’re looking to improve your sleep quality and reduce chronic pain.

About the author
Andrew Levacy runs Memory Foam Talk a site dedicated to unbiased Mattress reviews having slept on almost 75 mattresses since starting this site, and sharing real-life experience with each of them.

Is your mattress the cause of your back pain? appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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Prioritising sleep may not be your first concern when starting college or university. But optimising your dorm room for the best sleep is vital to ensure a happy and productive student life.

Living in a dorm room is one of the most useful experiences you can have as a college student. Dorm rooms across the world are usually cheaper and more accessible than renting an apartment for your college needs, so why not consider the opportunity?

As someone who survived an entire year in a college dorm, I can tell you that it can be stressful at first. The problem that most students come across however is the inability to get some proper shuteye like they used to before. There are so many new factors to consider once you move into your new dorm room, not the least of which is how to deal with your new roommate and actually sleep like a normal person.

I had to learn a lot about dorm life in a hard way because I had no prior knowledge of how things work in there, and I’m a light sleeper myself! So what are some of the most useful tips that can not only get you through your dorm life but make it more enjoyable in the process?

>> You might like: Why All Night Study Sessions Are Really Bad For Your Grades

Choose your spot

Being “that” person and claiming you have special sleeping needs isn’t as bad as it sounds. If you are a light sleeper and get paired up with someone who snores or goes to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you won’t have a great time.

Talk to your dorm management before moving in completely and explain that you would like to be paired up with someone with similar needs. Once you actually get to see your room, use the advantage of being the first person there to choose your bed wisely. If you have sleeping issues and can’t get comfortable for long periods of time, it will make a world of difference knowing that you chose your spot of your volition.

Talk to your room-mate

Your dorm roommate will be your best friend and worst enemy for the next year of your life. This means that you will share kitchen and bathroom supplies as well as college difficulties. Learning each other’s sleeping patterns is a good way to get off on a right foot. Even if you sleep well yourself, your roommate might have trouble sleeping before 2AM.

This means that compromises need to be made through communicating and mutual understanding. Tell your roommate about anything that you might need to sleep well, and listen to their own “requests” in return. Even if you don’t want to hang out together or go out for a drink, sleeping is an elementary activity that both of you need to provide for each other.

>> You Might Like: Here’s How Sleep Can Boost Your Grades This Semester

How to sleep well: a dorm room checklist: College dorms usually come in a pre-designed variety, meaning that there isn’t a lot you can do when it comes to rearranging your space. However, the little you can do can help you sleep a lot better and feel more comfortable in your new home. Change the drapes into something “darkening”

Dorm drapes can sometimes be transparent and don’t block out light very well. This can be a problem if you are facing East and have no way of resisting the light in the morning.

Buy some greenery

Putting a couple of houseplants around your room can make the space feel more natural and comfortable to work in. Not all students like to study in joint libraries so make sure that you are also content when studying is concerned.

Move the furniture around a bit

If you don’t like the rotation or placement of your desks and beds, you can wiggle them around a bit to make it more comfortable or spacious. College dorms are designed for comfort but they also take other students into consideration and aim to provide maximum student capacity.

Get an alarm clock

If you and your roommate get up at similar hours, an alarm clock can help you both tremendously. Putting the clock in a space you can’t reach from your bed will stop you from hitting that “Snooze” button and actually get up when you have to.

Get some boxes and bags

The space beneath your bed is a perfect place to stash your belongings in. Students use this space to store their clothes, snacks and studying material. This can usually unclog your living space and let it breathe, providing a more comfortable experience for both you and your roommate.

Stock up on cleaning supplies

College dorm rooms can get dirty very fast due to their size and the fact that two or more people live in them. Stock up on any cleaning supplies you might need for your furniture, floors and bathroom. Living in a dust-free environment will make your breathing and sleeping much more comfortable as a result.

Limit your tech exposure                                                                          

Students are known for staying up late to either work or kill some time before feeling sleepy. However, exposing your eyes and brain to too much exposure before sleep can drastically affect the rest you get afterwards. It will take far longer for you to fall asleep and get the rest you so desperately need. Learn how to finish your work at least an hour before going to bed in order to adjust your sleeping cycle.

It can be difficult to lower the amount of screen exposure for students, especially when exams and projects need to be submitted. Learning how to manage your time to use daylight as best as possible is a lesson that comes with experience, so give yourself some time to get used to dorm life such as it is. Communicate the same to your roommate and try to help each other sleep better by turning off electronic devices an hour before sleeping.

Learn how to nap

Naps are the sharpest tool in your arsenal when it comes to dorm life. Your roommate might have lectures that leave you with an hour or two of free time until they come back to the room. This can give you the much-needed time to recharge your batteries before working on something important again.

>> You Might Like: 10 Science Based Reasons Why Naps Are Like Magic

Some people don’t like the notion of napping through the day, but if you have a lot of work to do for college; this will be your only option if you want to stay awake and aware.

Take short naps that last about 30-60 minutes anytime you can, and if your roommate wants to do the same with you, even better! Synchronizing your napping patterns is a great way to deepen your friendship because it will show you that you actually care for each other’s wellbeing and productivity.

Don’t work yourself out

College can be a stressful period if you are not careful with the battles you choose. There will be a lot of extracurricular activities that you will want to participate in, from clubs to NGOs. Make sure to limit your side activities to a select few (one or two at the most).

Stretching yourself out too thin can have devastating consequences both for your mental and physical health as well as the sleeping patterns you employ. You will have a much harder time sleeping normally and getting good rest if you have a lot on your mind each day.

Your primary obligations should be the classes and projects you have to submit for them – not a book club or a volunteering activity you discovered recently. Do what is best for yourself and learn your limits before you become ill or too nervous to do anything about it. Your roommate can help you as a third-party and be the voice of reason that tells you when you need to get back on track – and you can do the same for them.

Give it some time

Getting used to dorm life is much like moving to a different city or changing your house – a lot of things will change in a short time. It’s important to stay open-minded and process ideas and thoughts as they come. Don’t overthink about what may happen a few months down the line and try to focus on the present.

Learning how to sleep outside your comfort zone will take some time and there will be some sleepless nights ahead of you. Take it from someone who spent a year of their life in a college dorm – it does get easier, and you will be stronger for it in the end.

The experience of sharing a small room with someone you’ve just met and studying for your degree is one of those times in life where you will feel fully aware and alive. Don’t let negative thoughts get in the way of you enjoying the dorm life you found yourself in.

About the Author
James Scott, experienced writer and co-founder of Essay Supply. He is a bit of a musician, a bit of a dreamer and a bit of an introvert. He also loves taking afternoon naps and jotting notes about his dreams.

How to sleep well in a college dorm room appeared first on Sleep Junkies.

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