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  • Dr. CK Bray

Neuroscience in the News: Sleep Your Way to Smart, Food Porn and Psilocybin Update.


It is time for Neuroscience in the News. Choosing only four studies was difficult, but the latest published research does not disappoint!

SLEEP

All it takes is three consecutive nights of sleep loss to cause your mental and physical well-being to deteriorate significantly. For example, sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in anger, frustration, and anxiety. Additionally, those who experienced sleep loss reported a change in physical wellbeing, including gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.

A new study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine looked at the consequences of sleeping fewer than six hours for eight consecutive nights – the minimum duration of sleep experts say is necessary to support optimal health in average adults. Lead author Soomi Lee, assistant professor in the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida, found the most significant jump in symptoms appeared after only one night of sleep loss. After that, the number of mental and physical problems steadily got worse, peaking on day three. At that point, research shows the human body got relatively used to repeated sleep loss. But that all changed on day six when participants reported that the severity of physical symptoms was at its worst.

“Many of us think that we can pay our sleep debt on weekends and be more productive on weekdays,” Lee said. “However, results from this study show that having just one night of sleep loss can significantly impair your daily functioning.” About one-third of U.S. adults sleep less than six hours per night. Lee says once that becomes a habit, it’s increasingly difficult for your body to fully recover from lack of sleep, continuing the vicious cycle of worsening daily well-being, which could impact one professionally. Lee says the best way to maintain performance is to set aside more than six hours to sleep every night.

HAIR PULLING

Help may be coming to assist those with trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is a mental disorder often considered among obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. Those with the disorder usually remove hair to a noticeable and even painful, degree. A new glove sensor has been developed by students that tracks hand motion and flexing, relaying the information to a smartphone app.

At Rice’s Brown School of Engineering, students developed a glove-based sensor that tracks hand motion and flexing, combined with a smartphone app that tracks behavior over time. The glove incorporates a flex and other sensors along with a gyroscope that senses when a hair pull has happened. Then, the glove sends data to the app, which keeps track of “no-pull” streaks.

The team was among dozens demonstrating their capstone projects, required of graduating seniors in engineering, at the school’s Engineering Design Showcase. “The sensors look at the flexing of fingers you’re going to use for pinching movements as well as your hand movements,” he said. “We know not only when you’re pulling your hair but also when you’re about to pull your hair. Having this information easily accessible to a patient is really where our device shines.” “The products out there now are great, but they fire without sensitivity or specificity,” he said. “You reach up, and it goes off, so you learn pretty quickly to ignore it.”

SOCIAL MEDIA FOLLOWERS AND FOOD PORN

Social media influencers take note, posting images of fatty foods increases follower engagement. But what is it about videos of food that engages users and generates the most likes, comments, and shares?

A recent investigation, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, focused on the nutritional makeup of dishes depicted on social media. They examined the recipes and ingredients for hundreds of Facebook videos from Buzzfeed’s Tasty profile and found that caloric density can positively influence social media engagement. Perhaps most notably, Buzzfeed’s Tasty has become the world’s largest digital culinary network, amassing more than 100 million followers on Facebook and over a billion monthly views.

Humans are hard-wired to seek foods with characteristics that the brain instinctively recognizes as valuable. Seeing calorie-dense foods like those high in fat content (like burgers, pizza, and cookies) typically precedes pleasurable consumption, so it is natural that humans visually attend to food. In addition, finding and eating calorie-dense foods typically makes people feel good, releasing dopamine and stimulating pleasure centers of the brain. This suggests that a dish’s appearance can broadly gauge nutritional content and that simple exposure to calorie-dense meals can make people feel good.

UPDATE ON PSILOCYBIN

One dose of psilocybin, the psychoactive compound found in magic mushrooms, increases dendritic spine density within 24 hours. The neurobiological changes lasted for a month following psilocybin exposure. Additionally, mice subjected to stress showed behavioral improvements and increased neurotransmitter activity after psilocybin exposure.

In a new study, Yale researchers show that a single dose of psilocybin given to mice prompted an immediate and long-lasting increase in connections between neurons. The findings are published July 5 in the journal Neuron. “We not only saw a 10% increase in the number of neuronal connections, but also they were on average about 10% larger, so the connections were stronger as well,” said Yale’s Alex Kwan, associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and senior author of the paper. “It was a real surprise to see such enduring changes from just one dose of psilocybin,” he said. “These new connections may be the structural changes the brain uses to store new experiences.”


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