2008-12-04

Health news in brief: Napping improves memory


TAKING a nap — even a short one — may boost a sophisticated kind of memory that helps us see the big picture and get creative.

The findings, revealed at the Society for Neuroscience conference in the United States, said that interrupting sleep seriously disrupts memory.

Researchers said that our brains can keep on working while we are asleep to solve problems and come up with new ideas.

Researchers noted that more common than insomnia is fragmented sleep — the easy awakening that comes with ageing, or, worse, the sleep apnea that afflicts millions, who quit breathing for 30 seconds or so.

Fragmented sleep, whether from ageing or apnea, can suppress the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, where memory-making begins — enough to hinder learning weeks after sleep returns to normal.
Scientists are increasingly focusing less on sleep duration and more on the quality of sleep, what's called sleep intensity, in studying how sleep helps the brain process memories so they stick. Particularly important is "slow-wave sleep", a period of very deep sleep that comes earlier than better-known REM sleep, or dreaming time.

Good sleep is a casualty of our 24/7 world. Surveys suggest few adults attain the recommended seven to eight hours a night. Over time, a chronic lack of sleep can erode the body in ways that leave us more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

Face-to-face buggy is better

BABY buggies which face forwards may stunt children's development and turn them into anxious adults. Infants suffer more stress and sometimes even "trauma" in modern buggies with seats facing away from their parent.

Researchers at Dundee University in Scotland said children found it difficult to get their parents' attention and were spoken to only rarely, at a stage of life when youngsters thrive on interaction.

In contrast, children in traditional parent-facing buggies were more likely to laugh, listen to their mothers talking and to sleep — indicating lower stress levels.

They observed 2,722 parents in Britain and found that parents were more than twice as likely to talk to their child if they used a face-to-face buggy — 25 per cent against 11. The study involved 20 babies being pushed across a town centre, 0.8km facing forwards and 0.8km facing the pusher.

Only one baby laughed during the away-facing journey, while half laughed during the face-to-face journey. The researchers said parent-child interactions are crucial at a time when brain connections are multiplying rapidly.



Ban on fast-food ads may reduce childhood obesity


A BAN on fast-food commercials could put a significant dent in the problem of childhood obesity. It could reduce the number of obese young children by 18 per cent, and the number of obese older kids by 14.

Researchers at City University of New York also suggested that ending an advertising expense tax deduction for fast-food restaurants could mean a slight reduction in childhood obesity.

The new study — published in the Journal of Law & Economics — is based in part on several years of government survey data from the late 1990s that involved in-person interviews with thousands of US families. The researchers used a statistical test that presumes TV ads lead to obesity but made calculations to address other influences such as income and the number of nearby fast-food restaurants.

They also took steps to account for the possibility that some children may already have been overweight and inactive regardless of their TV-watching habits.



Brisk walk reduces choc craving


CHOCOHOLICS looking to curb their chocolate urges may be able to do so simply by taking a brisk 15-minute walk. Chocolate is likely the most commonly and intensely craved food, and chocolate urges are often triggered by boredom, stress or the desire to uplift mood or increase alertness.

Previous studies have shown that short bouts of exercise, such as brisk walking, can also improve alertness and mood, and reduce sugar snack urges.

The latest findings by researchers at School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter in Britain revealed that exercise also appeared to lessen participants' increase cravings.

They enlisted 20 women and five men (25 years old on average) who reported eating at least two chocolate bars daily to abstain from eating chocolate for three days.

The participants also abstained from caffeine products and exercise for two hours prior to undergoing each of two testing scenarios — either 15 minutes of brisk walking or sitting quietly for 15 minutes. After each scenario, participants completed a mentally arousing task.

Post scenario testing showed being sedentary "did nothing to reduce chocolate cravings, whereas doing a 15-minute walk reduced urges to eat chocolate". — Agencies

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