Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sleeping habits can cause problems for students

Sleeping is a college student's savior, but not getting enough sleep is a battle students face on a daily basis.

A study conducted by the Journal of American College Health showed that increased irritability, raised levels of stress and depression all play a part in college students' sleeping patterns.

Kent Bullis, a physician and health director at Ball State said getting up at the same time every day plays the biggest role in students who are sleep deprived.

"A lot of people sleep in on the weekends, which can throw off your sleeping routine," Bullis said. "By doing this you set yourself up for failure."

The Ball State Health Center treats students who have a prevalent problem with sleeping disorders, Bullis said.

"The vast majority of people who come in looking for solutions to problems with sleeping relate to poor sleep habits," Burris said. "Things such as drinking caffeine during the day can be a factor in irregular sleeping patterns."

Macy Thombleson, a freshman journalism major said when she doesn't get enough sleep she tries to make up for the loss of sleep through other regiments.

"Sometimes I don't get enough sleep so I compensate by taking naps during the day and get coffee if I'm super tired during the day," Thombleson said.

Sleeping disorders can also be caused by frequent use of marijuana or alcohol, according to the Journal of American College Health. The use of these substances sabotages mental and physical health.

Pulling all-nighters can also be considered harmful to the sleeping cycle because it throws off the body's natural time clock, according to the Journal of American College Health.

Medical News Today said 20 percent of students stay up all night at least once a month.

"All-nighters don't work for me," Thombleson said. "I don't think I ever get a good night sleep when I have a test the next day though, because I feel stressed."

Stress affects sleeping habits in 68 percent of college students, according to Medical News Today.

The Journal of American College Health said environmental factors could also cause disruptions in sleeping patterns.

This is apparent more in freshmen as they transition from their own bedrooms to small dorm rooms with no personal space. This creates stress that makes it harder for the student to get a full 8 hours of sleep.

Constant shifts in sleeping cycles can cause feelings of depression, reduced sociability and difficulty in concentrating.

Bullis said sleeping in a dark, quiet environment can help solve issues related to not being able to fall asleep.

The best way to prevent sleeping disorders is to remove yourself from stressful situations, try sleeping without any distractions such as the TV and to avoid drinking caffeine in the afternoon hours, Bullis said.

Read more: http://www.bsudailynews.com/sleeping-habits-can-cause-problems-for-students-1.2704207

Monday, February 27, 2012

Genome Sequencing Finds Unknown Cause of Epilepsy

Not only did they find the likely culprit – a previously unknown mutation in a gene coding for a sodium channel protein in the central nervous system – but their findings offer some emotional relief and explanation to the patient’s family in the absence of a medical diagnosis and any family history of similar disease.

“If you have a small child with severe epilepsy, not knowing what is causing it is a big burden to carry for the family,” said Michael Hammer of the UA’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology. “It leaves a lot of open questions and sometimes even feelings of guilt.”

Because the severity of the patient’s condition, the absence of the disease in both parents and her younger sibling and no family history of epilepsy, Hammer and Krishna Veeramah ruled out an inherited genetic defect as the cause. Rather, they suspected a so-called de novo mutation, a “typo” in the genetic alphabet generated by pure happenstance, most likely in the paternal germ line.

“We were tasked with the search for the proverbial needle in a haystack,” said Veeramah. “To find a de novo mutation, we have to comb through the entire genome. In the old days, we could have generated a list of candidate genes and sequenced them one gene at a time. Unfortunately that is a lot of work, especially in the brain where you have thousands of genes that could potentially be involved in a process leading to a neurological disorder.”

“The development of Next Generation Sequencing Technology in recent years provides a much more powerful approach to actually analyse all the genes at the same time. So that is what we wanted to do. We are looking at the level of the entire genome something that was not possible until very recently”, Hammer added.

In this case, the researchers did not find a smoking gun from looking at copy number variations, leaving point mutations or small insertions or deletions of DNA letters as a likely cause. Using the sequencing technology capabilities of Complete Genomics between 96 and 97 per cent of the patient’s DNA sequence, as well as the genomes of her parents and her sibling, was deciphered within a few weeks.

Veeramah pointed out that each one of the roughly 3 billion base pairs that make up the human DNA alphabet was covered by at least 50 reads.

“This is important because whole genome sequencing still makes a lot of errors so you have to double up on your efforts to get the accuracy you need.”

Read more: http://biomedme.com/general/genome-sequencing-finds-unknown-cause-of-epilepsy_39890.html

Top 7 types of sleep disorders

Do you generally have trouble falling asleep even when you are dead tired? Do you often find yourself awake in the middle of the night, even though you went to bed exhausted?

If this is you, then you might just have some sort of a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders cause more than just sleepiness; they might have a deteriorating effect on your productivity, psychological and overall health. It is a must to understand them in detail. Today, Dr. Pulkit Sharma, Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalytical Therapist at VIMHANS helps us understand the top 7 most common sleep disorders in detail.

Insomnia. People suffering from insomnia either have difficulty in sleep initiation, sleep continuation or both. It is a highly prevalent sleep disorder and can be transitional or primary. Transitional insomnia is a sleep disturbance caused due to stressful life circumstances and resolves once the stress is taken care of. Primary insomnia is poorly understood, long-term and is difficult to treat. Insomnia has an adverse impact on your mood, attention and concentration. Lifestyle changes and psychological treatments can help treat this condition.

Sleep Apnea. This condition is marked by difficulty in breathing while you are asleep. Either there is a rupture in breathing or the person's breath, in general, becomes superficial. This prevents the person from getting a deep rejuvenating sleep. It often leads to fatigue during daytime. This condition is manageable with a range of available treatments.

Periodic Limb Movement Disorder (PLMD). It is characterized by an involuntary movement of limbs while sleeping. People suffering from this condition have little awareness about it and often their close ones are the first to detect it. Stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine can worsen these symptoms. This condition is treatable by medicines used in the management of Parkinson's disease.

Restless Legs Syndrome. The individual experiences certain unusual sensations in their legs due to which they have an urge to move their legs constantly. Across individuals this condition varies in intensity. Symptoms may exacerbate temporarily during relaxation. Various pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments are available.

Narcolepsy. People suffering from this condition feel extremely sleepy during daytime and drift into sleep during the waking hours. The individual may experience temporary freezing or paralysis during these sleep attacks. Antidepressants, special diets, lifestyle changes and psychological treatments are very helpful in this condition. Social support is essential as people may consider the person to be lazy.

Sleep Walking. A sleep walker performs tasks that people generally do when awake, while fast asleep. For instance - walking, getting ready, brushing teeth, going out of the house, etc. The person has no or limited insights into their behaviors during sleep and may get shocked when others tell them about it. Apart from certain biological factors, unconscious psychological processes, especially dissociation, contribute to sleep walking. This condition needs a thorough diagnosis and management as there may be a risk to the person's life.

Delayed sleep phase disorder. The person takes a lot of time to fall off to sleep and consequently finds it hard to get up on the scheduled time in morning. Once in a while such occurrences happen with everyone, but for people with this disorder this is almost a daily phenomenon. These people feel more alert at night than in the daytime. It commonly starts in childhood or adolescence and can be helped greatly with proper treatment.

Southerners Sleepiest, U.S. 'Sleep Map' Shows

Where you live in the United States may influence how well you sleep, researchers report.

Southerners report the most sleep disturbances and daytime fatigue, while people in the West have the least, according to a new study that created state-by-state sleep maps for the United States.

University of Pennsylvania researchers created the maps using national data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Sleep disturbance is a major public health concern. However, geographic dispersion of sleep problems, and the factors that may play a role in why some states or regions get better sleep, have been largely unexplored," study author Michael Grandner, a research associate at Penn's Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology, said in a university news release.

"Our study generated the first sleep maps for the U.S. that include data on sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue across most of the country," he added.

Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and West Virginia had the highest rates of sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue. The findings are consistent with previous research showing that many of the states with higher rates of sleep disturbance and daytime fatigue are the same ones with higher rates of other conditions, such as obesity.

The researchers used telephone survey data from more than 150,000 adults. They determined that regional differences in mental health, race/ethnicity and access to medical care were the major reasons for the differences in sleep patterns among states.

"The take-home message from this study is that different regions of the country sleep better than others," Grandner said. "We should begin to use this data to track patterns of poor sleep and try to understand why these patterns occur. Sleep is such an important part of overall health, we need to do everything we can to help give a good night's sleep to those in the highest-risk regions."

The study is published online in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Read more: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/sleep-disorders/southerners-sleepiest-us-sleep-map-shows

Use of cooling blanket spurs new infant brain research into optimal care

Pediatric neurologists and neonatologists in Vanderbilt’sNeonatal Intensive Care Unit(NICU) are conducting research that may better define what happens in the brains of newborns who have suffered from oxygen deprivation, and what brain cooling therapy can achieve.
Use of a “cooling cap” within six hours is now the standard of care when an otherwise healthy, full-term infant experiences a serious lack of oxygen, called anoxic brain injury. The therapy uses cool water to bring the temperature of the brain down about five degrees. Vanderbilt took part in the initial studies of the cooling cap, which was found to reduce serious long-term brain damage and death by about one-third.
Now a switch has been made to a cooling blanket instead of a cap. The blanket is as effective in its brain-protecting capacity, but it offers researchers an opportunity to better assess what is happening in the brain as it is cooled.

Easier to monitor babies’ brains

Pediatric neurology chief resident Siddharth Jain said by using a cooling blanket, the scalp is free for him to apply a full, nine-lead electro encephalogram (EEG) monitor along with a newer device called a near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) monitor to find out what is going on beneath a baby’s scalp.
The EEG can detect seizures, while NIRS measures how the brain uses oxygen. The information collected so far has been surprising.
“We already know the EEG detects seizures that cannot be seen in these babies. Up to 80 percent of seizures in babies with anoxic brain injury have no overt clinical signs. Other studies have shown that these babies can have between 100 and 120 seizures during the first 72 hours of life,” Jain said.
“These seizures are different than those in epilepsy. They are very aggressive in the first 48 hours and difficult to control. We don’t know for sure, but the consensus is the seizures themselves cause further damage.”
Jain is working with Barbara Engelhardt, associate professor of neonatology, to closely examine what is happening in the first 72 hours after an anoxic injury — the critical window of opportunity in which the cooling seems to have its maximum brain-preserving effect.
For this observational study, William Walsh, neonatologist and director of nurseries, switched the NICU to the cooling blanket to allow the researchers to enroll the one or two babies brought to Vanderbilt every month with anoxic brain injury.

Speeding up evaluation and treatment

The first goal is to use EEG and NIRS to more quickly and accurately predict the severity of the anoxic injury. Currently, an MRI is used to give doctors a peek at structural damage in the brain, once the initial injury has stabilized, to assess long-term changes. But the predictive value of long term damage is not very great.
Engelhardt says EEG and NIRS provide information from day one about seizure activity as well how the brain is using oxygen.
These two pieces of information can describe changes after the initial injury, and may help provide a better measure of the effects on long-term outcomes.

Enables researchers to test new therapies

A second goal is to use the monitors to test new therapies. The hope is the monitors could more quickly assess the effectiveness of therapies is controlling seizures, or better balancing nutrient consumption after injury in the hope of further reducing the risk of permanent brain damage.
“When a brain cell is injured, it can go one of two ways: it can die or recover,” Walsh said. “The goal is to limit damage to as small an area as possible.
“The cooling cap was a general way to slow down the potential for further damage, but in the 15 years we have been using it, we have learned a lot about what is happening biochemically in anoxic injury and how we can further impact that damage.”

Infographic: Women Are Twice As Likely To Suffer Insomnia Than Men

If all you can think about on Friday is your ability to catch up on some much-needed sleep on Saturday, you’re not alone. Americans are sleeping, on average, 20% less than they were a century ago–and insomnia and other sleep disorders disproportionately impact certain groups of people, like women, children, and those suffering from depression. If you’re having a tough time waking up today (or find it hard to hit the sack earlier, even though you know you should), take a look at this infographic from the Canada Drug Center to see who else suffering, and what it means for your health.
According to the data gathered to compile this graphic, women are almost twice as likely to suffer from insomnia as men, and children and teenagers rarely get the sleep required. The topic of sleep in children has been a hot one lately, after the general public realized that no one actually knows how much sleep kids need, and that early mornings at school and late nights spent doing homework might be bad for their health.
But the most sleepless of them all? Those who are suffering from depression. 90% of people who are depressed battle with insomnia–which can compound symptoms like headaches, overwhelming sadness, and feelings of exhaustion and lack of motivation.
Yes, there are a few flaws with this infographic–like that our periods are blamed almost entirely for our sleepless nights, which I’m not sure I can entirely agree with–but it does also offer some good information about the consequences of sleep deprivation and disorders. Like, for example, that exhaustion is the single most common reason for couples to skip or delay sex, or that tiredness can often lead to weight gain.
In an era where busy schedules and mountains of stress make dependency on caffeine and constantly feeling tired are practically the norm, it’s easy to shrug off good advice about better “sleep hygiene”–like turning off or putting away your devices an hour before bed, or reducing consumption of alcohol. But those little changes, difficult as they may seem, may help cut down on sleepless nights…and the need to sleep all day when you finally get the chance.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Can some children simply 'grow out' of autism? One mother tells how her son's life has been transformed

When Josh Tutin was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism so severe that experts believed it unlikely he would ever relate to other people.
Yet now the Bristol boy is a thoughtful, joyful nine-year-old who attends a mainstream school.
Has he grown out of his condition? New research by a prestigious American university claims that not only is this possible, it’s also common.
A new study in the respected journal Pediatrics reports that up to one third of children diagnosed with autism at a young age no longer display symptoms when they are older.
And the behavioural transformation seen in Josh over the past six years has certainly gone beyond the wildest hopes of his parents.
As a toddler, Josh seemed irretrievably trapped inside his own troubled world.
‘We couldn’t have a cot because he would fling himself against it,’ says Josh’s mother, Renitha, 39, a chartered accountant who teaches at Bristol University.
‘He just slept lying on me. When he was awake he would scream and scream.’
If Renitha wanted something as simple as a shower, her husband, Richard, a lecturer in accounting and finance, also at Bristol University, would have to be on hand.
‘I would pass Josh to Richard and he would have to hold him while he screamed,’ she remembers.
‘There was one day when Josh had tantrum after tantrum, and I was so upset I started crying, and Josh just looked at me without any awareness.
‘I remember thinking: “He will never feel what I’m feeling. He can’t understand emotion”.’
When Josh was three, a health visitor witnessed him having a violent tantrum and referred Josh to specialists at Frenchay hospital, where he underwent twice-weekly diagnostic tests over a six-week period.
‘At the end, the specialists gave me a depressing report explaining that Josh was seriously disabled with autism,’ says Renitha.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects more than 100,000 children. It is not known what causes it, but it affects a child’s ability to communicate and relate to others.
They are often withdrawn, mute, unable to make eye contact and prone to disturbed sleep and tantrums.
Many never take part in mainstream education and some require full-time care.
Indeed, Josh’s specialists wanted him to be sent to a special school.
‘They did not think he would cope in mainstream school,’ says Renitha.
However, she and her husband decided to reject that advice.
‘We have nothing against special schools, but we thought we would see if mainstream school could work for him first,’ she says.
Nowadays, the difference in Josh would strike outsiders as a massive change.
‘He loves maths and can play Grade 3 pieces on the piano,’ says Renitha.
‘Last year, he made me a beautiful bracelet for Mother’s Day. It made me realise how much things had changed.
‘If anyone is hurt, he will go up to them and ask why and try to give them a cuddle or cheer them up.
'If he is unsure why someone is upset, he will ask questions to try to understand.’
Josh’s transformation is far from unique, according to the Pediatrics study.
The researchers questioned 1,366 parents of children aged 17 and younger who had been previously diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Of these, 453 parents said that their children no longer had the condition and had grown out of it since the age of seven.
The lead researcher, Dr Andrew Zimmerman, from Massachusetts General Hospital for Children, accepts the findings might partly reflect the fact that some of the children may have been misdiagnosed.
But he stresses that these are only a minority, and his results should certainly not be put down to misdiagnosis alone.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2103940/Autism-Can-children-simply-grow-One-mother-tells-sons-life-transformed.html#ixzz1nKIWnBDv

Friday, February 24, 2012

Teens' concussion risk not limited to football

Although football has been in the spotlight when it comes to high school athletes' concussions, other sports carry a risk as well, a new study shows. Between 2008 and 2010, researchers found, U.S. high school athletes suffered concussions at a rate of 2.5 for every 10,000 times they hit the playing field, for practice or competition.

Nearly half -- 47 percent -- happened in football. But girls' soccer and basketball, and boys' wrestling, ice hockey and lacrosse were among the other sports with a risk of head injury.

Just over eight percent of all concussions happened in girls' soccer, while girls' basketball and boys' wrestling accounted for almost six percent each.

Boys' ice hockey accounted for fewer total concussions, but it beat all other sports when it came to proportion: Of all injuries to boys in ice hockey, 22 percent were concussions.

Most of the head injuries happened when players collided with each other. But even some kids in non-contact sports -- like softball, gymnastics, cheerleading and swimming -- suffered blows to the head.

"They're not just occurring in full-contact sports," said lead researcher Natalie McIlvain, of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The findings are not meant to alarm parents, she and her colleagues say, since the benefits of sports far outweigh the risk of concussion.

But parents, coaches and kids alike should be aware of the risk, and the symptoms of concussion, said Christy Collins, a senior research associate at Nationwide Children's.

"It's very important for kids to be involved in sports," Collins said. "But at the same time we have to keep them safe."

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, come at a time of increasing concern about concussions in young athletes.

Estimates of the number of Americans suffering sports-related concussions have been climbing in recent years. That's partly because more people are playing contact sports, young athletes are training more aggressively at an earlier age, and doctors are more aggressive about diagnosing concussions.

A recent study found that in 2008, there were five concussions for every 10,000 U.S. high school athletes who hit the playing field. That was up from just about one per 10,000 a decade earlier.

Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that kids with concussions get cleared by a doctor before they can get back on the playing field.

But that also means coaches, parents and kids need to know the signs of a concussion, McIlvain and Collins said.

Concussion symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, ringing in the ears, fatigue and confusion -- though these problems may not become noticeable until hours after the jolt to the head. And contrary to popular belief, concussions usually do not involve loss of consciousness.

Among the findings in the new study was a higher concussion risk among girls than boys.

In "gender-comparable" sports, girls had a 70 percent higher concussion rate than boys.

It's not clear why. But, Collins said, it may have to do with girls' lesser neck strength. Concussions happen when an impact is strong enough to jar the brain within the skull; it's thought that greater neck strength might offer some protection -- though that's still under study.

Once a concussion is recognized, the AAP says that kids should rest, both physically and mentally. Schoolwork and other mental tasks, even video game playing, can make symptoms worse -- so athletes with a concussion may need a break from non-physical activities as well.

The biggest concern is that injured kids not return to the game until their symptoms have fully passed.

If an athlete suffers another head injury before the initial concussion has healed, there's a risk of "second-impact syndrome" -- which can have severe consequences, including bleeding inside the skull, brain swelling and death.

"The real danger," Collins said, "is returning to play too soon."

Read more: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_122037.html

New Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury Shows Promise in Animals

A new drug is showing promise in shielding against the harmful effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in rats, according to a study that was just released and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th Annual Meeting in New Orleans April 21 to April 28, 2012.

"There are currently no primary treatments for TBI, so this research provides hope that effective treatments can be developed," said study author Michael Kaufman, a second year medical student at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. The principal investigator on the study is Christian Kreipke, MD, also with Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Traumatic brain injury causes a decrease in blood flow in the cerebrum of the brain, which if prolonged, can cause permanent cell dysfunction and death. A receptor in the brain called endothelin receptor A (ETrA) contributes to the restriction of blood flow as early as four hours after a brain injury. The new drug, called clazosentan, is thought to specifically block these receptors.

Researchers gave brain-injured rats the drug clazosentan through an intravenous (IV) line at several different points in time after the injury. Next, they measured the rat's blood flow in the hippocampus and sensory motor cortex with an MRI brain scan and tested their behavior in learning a maze.

Preliminary data from the study found that clazosentan decreased the effects of the traumatic brain injury on blood flow to the hippocampus by 25 percent at four hours and 23 percent at 48 hours after TBI. However, giving the rats the drug at 12 hours post-injury caused some to improve, while others worsened or remained the same. In the trial, the drug was most effective when given at two hours post-injury and again at 24 hours after the trauma. The rats also performed better on the maze test when given the drug at two and 24 hours post-injury.

"This research is the foundation for future clinical trials that will investigate the possibilities of using clazosentan in the treatment of TBI," said Kaufman.

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220090616

Babies' Colic Linked to Mothers' Migraines

A study of mothers and their young babies by neurologists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has shown that mothers who suffer migraine headaches are more than twice as likely to have babies with colic than mothers without a history of migraines.

The work raises the question of whether colic may be an early symptom of migraine and therefore whether reducing stimulation may help just as reducing light and noise can alleviate migraine pain. That is significant because excessive crying is one of the most common triggers for shaken baby syndrome, which can cause death, brain damage and severe disability.

"If we can understand what is making the babies cry, we may be able to protect them from this very dangerous outcome," said Amy Gelfand, MD, a child neurologist with the Headache Center at UCSF who will present the findings at the American Academy of Neurology's 64th Annual Meeting, which takes place in New Orleans in April.

Colic, or excessive crying in an otherwise healthy infant, has long been associated with gastrointestinal problems -- presumably caused by something the baby ate. However, despite more than 50 years of research, no definitive link has been proven between infant colic and gastrointestinal problems. Babies who are fed solely breast milk are as likely to have colic as those fed formula, and giving colicky babies medication for gas does not help.

"We've known about colic for a really long time," Gelfand said, "but despite this fact, no one really knows why these babies are crying."

How the Study was Conducted

In the UCSF study, Gelfand and her colleagues surveyed 154 new mothers bringing their infants to the pediatrician for routine check ups at two months, the age when colicky crying typically peaks. The mothers were surveyed about their babies' crying patterns and their own history of migraine, and those responses were analyzed to make sure the reported crying did indeed fit the clinical definition of colic.

Mothers who suffered migraines were found to be two-and-a-half times more likely to have colicky babies. Overall, 29 percent of infants whose mothers had migraines had colic compared to 11 percent of babies whose mothers did not have migraines.

Gelfand and her colleagues believe colic may be an early manifestation of a set of conditions known as childhood periodic syndromes, believed to be precursors to migraine headaches later in life.

Babies with colic may be more sensitive to stimuli in their environment just as are migraine sufferers. They may have more difficulty coping with the onslaught of new stimuli after birth as they are thrust from the dark, warm, muffled life inside the womb into a world that is bright, cold, noisy and filled with touchy hands and bouncy knees.

The UCSF team next plans to study a group of colicky babies over the course of their childhood to see if they develop other childhood periodic syndromes, such as abdominal migraine.

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220203001

Gene Affecting the Ability to Sleep Discovered in Fruit Flies

On the surface, it's simple: when night falls, our bodies get sleepy. But behind the scenes, a series of complex molecular events, controlled by our genes, is hard at work to make us groggy. Now, research suggests that a newly identified gene known as insomniac may play a role in keeping us asleep. By cloning and testing this gene in fruit flies, Rockefeller University researchers say they have discovered an entirely new mechanism by which sleep is regulated.

Nicholas Stavropoulos, a postdoc, and Michael W. Young, Richard and Jeanne Fisher Professor and head of the Laboratory of Genetics, conducted a genetic screen of approximately 21,000 fruit flies. Using a device that employs infrared beams to detect when the flies nod off, they discovered that mutations in the insomniac gene were associated with a dramatic reduction in sleep. While a typical fruit fly sleeps for average of 927 minutes a day, insomniac flies snoozed for just 317. The mutant flies also slept for shorter periods of time, and slept and woke more frequently.

"The results showed a dramatic loss of both the duration of the flies' sleep and their ability to remain asleep after they dozed off," says Stavropoulos. "But what's especially interesting is that the insomniacgene may function through homeostatic mechanisms. These are distinct from the well-studied circadian clock pathways linked to sleep, and have an effect on the body regardless of the time of day."

The scientists believe that insomniac works by engaging a specific series of protein degradation pathways in neurons through a complex known as Cul3. If correct, this would be the first time that a protein degradation pathway, in which specific proteins are eliminated within a cell, has been linked to sleep.

The researchers also examined the link between sleep and lifespan, finding that flies with mutations to the insomniac gene lived only about two-thirds as long as unaltered flies (other studies have suggested similar effects in both flies and rats that are deprived of sleep). But when the scientists eliminatedinsomniac only in neurons -- allowing it to remain in the rest of the flies' bodies -- this disparity was eliminated; the resulting animals slept poorly but lived just as long.

"This suggests that reduced sleep can be 'uncoupled' from reduced lifespan, supporting the idea that some disruptions of sleep do not affect overall health, at least as far as lifespan is concerned," Stavropoulos says.

Although flies and humans would appear to have little in common when it comes to lifestyle, scientists say that the mechanisms of sleep and wakefulness are likely to be quite similar.

"Sleep is a fundamental behavior in all animals, and it is poorly understood from a scientific standpoint," says Stavropoulos. "This work gives us several new clues about how sleep is controlled at the molecular level, and could prove useful in understanding and treating sleep disorders."

Read more: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120220211013

Teens With Autism Preoccupied With TV, Video Games: Study

When given the opportunity to have screen time, children with autism spectrum disorders typically choose television and video games over social interactive media, such as email, a new study finds .

The preoccupation with video games could interfere with the children's socialization and learning, warned the researchers, whose study appears online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by problems with social interaction, communication and restricted interests and behaviors. Autism spectrum disorders, or ASDs, include Asperger syndrome, which is a milder form of autism.

In conducting the study, the researchers analyzed information on more than 1,000 teens in special education classes, including those with autism spectrum disorders, learning and intellectual disabilities, and speech problems.

About 60 percent of the teens with autism spectrum disorders spent most of their time watching TV or videos, the investigators found.

"This rate appears to be high, given that among typically developing adolescents, only 28 percent have been shown to be 'high users' of television," Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, said in a university news release. "Television viewing is clearly a preferred activity for children with ASDs, regardless of symptoms, functional level or family status."

Moreover, 41 percent of the teens with autism spent most of their free time playing video games, the study authors found.

"Given that only 18 percent of youths in the general population are considered to be high users of video games, it seems reasonable to infer based on the current results, that kids with ASDs are at significantly greater risk of high use of this media than are youths without ASDs," Shattuck added.

In contrast, the teens with autism spectrum disorders were less likely to use email or social media.

"We found that 64.4 percent of youth with ASDs did not use email or chat at all," Shattuck said. "Kids with speech and language impairments and learning disabilities were about two times more likely to use email or chat rooms than those with ASDs."

He noted, however, use of social media increased among the teens with autism spectrum disorders as they got older and their cognitive skills improved. Cognitive is a word used to describe brain-based functions such as memory, thinking, learning and processing information.

"This proclivity for screen time might be turned into something we can take advantage of to enhance social skills and learning achievement, especially [with] recent innovations in devices like iPads," Shattuck suggested.

Read more: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_121913.html