Would an instruction manual make better sleepers of us all?

Monday, 25 May, 2015

Instructions for falling asleep, because sometimes I think we all need a refresher on the topic. So, no smartphones or tablets after lights out, that’s one step for ensuring a good night’s sleep.

Not a big problem for me though. What I really need is to shut off the flow of thoughts and ideas that churn through my mind. But moving on.

Here’s one for people who feel they fall into the insomnia category, don’t sweat the potential loss of sleep, just lie back, relax, and let sleep happen. Probably easier to say than do, but perhaps there’s something in it:

But sleeping better is not just about those presleep moments, the “falling” part. It requires a certain degree of daylong mental and physical discipline. Above all, beware the psychology of insomnia, which Winter describes as a self-¬≠perception problem of this sort: “Ed from accounting is the tall guy, Joanne is the cute girl, and I’m the one who does not sleep.” Sleep is not a bus stop; if your 10 p.m. bedtime passes by and you’re still awake, don’t fret. Trust that sleep – an innate physiological need, like hunger and thirst – will come. No one, especially children, should be given the impression that they are “bad sleepers,” Winter says.

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Beer has medicinal uses, but we all knew that already, right?

Thursday, 14 May, 2015

With all the beer microbreweries that can be found the world over, there’s bound to be one or two crafting a beer actually intended to aid in the treatment of a particular ailment. Otherwise a trip to the off-licence these days is unlikely to yield a medicinal ale.

That’s not to say such a brew was not prepared in the past though, it appears to be something that the Dutch were doing in the eighteenth century:

Another option was to add the herbs during the brewing process, either when boiling the malt, or just slightly heating them in the beer after the boiling has taken place. Van Lis mentioned over fifty kinds of herbs to prepare medicinal beer, ranging from ginger, lavender, cardamom, hyssop, cinnamon, aniseed, rosemary, nutmeg, gentian, juniper and lemon grass to plants such as absinth leaves, sweet flag, germander sage, and eye worth.

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Is plain old thinking a cancer risk? It might be…

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

Surely thinking, as in what we all do everyday, shouldn’t come with a government health warning? Apparently though thinking, and other mental activities, may promote the growth of certain tumours, in some regions of the brain. What a truly alarming prospect…

That’s the conclusion of a paper in Cell published Thursday that showed how activity in the cerebral cortex affected high-grade gliomas, which represent about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors in people. “This tumor is utilizing the core function of the brain, thinking, to promote its own growth,” says Michelle Monje, a researcher and neurologist at Stanford who is the paper’s senior author.

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A hangover cure, made from the leaves of the Alexandrian laurel

Friday, 1 May, 2015

Being Friday and all…

According to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a collection of manuscripts, some of which are nearly two thousand years old, the people of ancient Greece and Rome strung together leaves of a shrub called Danae racemosa, or Alexandrian laurel, to make a hangover curing necklace.

There seems to be doubt as to whether these leaves were actually effective of themselves, but possibly they had some placebo like quality that helped.

The key ingredient listed to treat the hangover – the slow growing evergreen Danae racemosa – wasn’t exactly known for its medical properties. The plant was used in Greek and Roman times to crown distinguished athletes, orators and poets. Whether stringing its leaves and wearing the strand around the neck had any effect to relieve headaches in alcohol victims isn’t known.

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A bloodcurdling history of blood transfusions

Thursday, 30 April, 2015

If you’ve ever needed a blood transfusion, then you ought to be especially thankful to a couple of dogs, living in England during the seventeenth century, who were involved, involuntarily I imagine, in the first known trials of the medical procedure.

The world’s first experiments with blood transfusion occurred in the mid-1660s in England. The procedure, which was first carried out between dogs, was gruesome: the dogs were tied down, the arteries and veins in their necks opened, and blood transferred from one to another through quills (most likely made from goose feathers) inserted into the blood vessels.

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A spoonful of wasabi may one day be the medicine going down

Friday, 17 April, 2015

Wasabi in dish, photo by Taku Kumabe

Wasabi is a condiment I love to hate. It must be consumed in just the right quantity to be appreciated. Despite the not-so-pleasant sensations it is capable of causing though, a recent in-depth analysis of its chemical structure may help in bringing about new medicines that will alleivate pain.

It’s not the onion’s fault you’re crying. The wasabi isn’t to blame for jolting your sinuses. And don’t curse the hipsters outside the bar for the burning cough you got walking through their cloud of cigarette smoke. Those things are actually all your fault. Or rather, those uncomfortable sensations all trace back to special proteins on neurons inside your body. Those wee tangles are why you cry, cough, sting, itch, swell up, or burn whenever you encounter something noxious.

(Photo by Taku Kumabe)

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Wealth and orange goggles, a better night’s sleep is guaranteed

Friday, 17 April, 2015

There are many ways to enjoy a good night’s sleep, but a couple of new thoughts have come to light. First up, if you’re rich, well off, and generally not short of a dollar, you’ll probably sleep well.

Or, if you wear orange tinted goggles for a couple of hours before turning in, especially if you watch movies on your laptop, or use your smartphone a lot later in the evening, then it seems you also will have a good night’s rest. Yes, that’s right, orange coloured glasses:

Most evenings, before watching late-night comedy or reading emails on his phone, Matt Nicoletti puts on a pair of orange-colored glasses that he bought for $8 off the Internet. “My girlfriend thinks I look ridiculous in them,” he said. But Mr. Nicoletti, a 30-year-old hospitality consultant in Denver, insists that the glasses, which can block certain wavelengths of light emitted by electronic screens, make it easier to sleep.

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Oh how do ye stress out? Let us then count the ways

Thursday, 16 April, 2015

According to some recent research, when it comes to sweating the small things, British people are more likely to worry about losing important documents, having nowhere to park, a printer not working, or their phone battery going flat.

Australians of course are not immune from such niggles either, try waiting ten minutes for a take-out cup of coffee when you’re the only customer in the cafe, and you’ll see what I mean.

Otherwise there is no shortage of bothers, and while the Australian list thereof is based on anecdotal evidence, rather than actual scientific study, the inclusions are probably about right:

  • Paying bills
  • Visiting your mother-in-law
  • Doctor’s appointments
  • The dodgy office printer

Interestingly who might, or might not, win the cricket doesn’t seem to rate a mention in either Britain or Australia.

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Medical breakthroughs that usually aren’t medical breakthroughs

Monday, 6 April, 2015

Something that always irks me, the hope, false as it often later turns out, that some brand new medical breakthrough, may help people suffering from a particular disease, that may only have limited treatment options. In many cases, the hype is in the name of securing more research funding, than anything else, sadly:

As science is working itself out, we reporters and our audiences seize on “promising findings.” It’s exciting to hear about a brand new idea that maybe – just maybe – could revolutionize medicine and stop some scourge people suffer through. We’re often prodded along by overhyping scientists like Zamboni, who are under their own pressure to attract research funding and publications. We don’t wait for scientific consensus; we report a little too early, and we lead patients and policymakers down wasteful, harmful, or redundant paths that end in dashed hope and failed medicine. This tendency could be minimized if we could only remember that the overwhelming majority of studies in medicine fail.

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Becoming a better person, one pill, of forty or so, at a time

Thursday, 2 April, 2015

In the not too distant future it looks like we’ll be enhancing both our cognitive abilities, and general health, by way of relatively large doses of multiple drugs, known as nootropics.

Eric Matzner tells me he takes 30 to 40 pills a day. He is 27 and perfectly healthy. Thanks to the pills, he says he hasn’t had a cold in years. More importantly, the regimen is supposed to optimize the hell out of his brain, smoothing right over the ravages of aging, sleep deprivation, and hangovers. Not that a guy so obsessed with health drinks much anyway.

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