Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Only Six Hours of Sleep? Better Grab a Tissue

I absolutely hate this.  My husband is right.  Not enough sleep can lead to colds.

We've fought for years over this, mostly because our son seems to get sick every time he misses a couple of hours of sleep.  I've always felt that it was mostly myth, or just Larry's crazy view of just about everything (he also believes lack of exercise makes you sick and that tomatoes will stop prostate cancer in its tracks -- and meanwhile, never goes to the doctor).

But anyway, now that Phillip's in high school, missing a day here and there is a serious thing.  No longer can he have the three-day stretches where he recovers from strep throat, or a cold.  (I admit, I'm a little scared, too.)

But a new study has found that "short" sleepers are four times more likely to get a cold.

Makes sense, I guess. People who sleep less than six hours a night are the ones most likely to have this happen to them.

This is the first study to use objective sleep measures to connect people’s natural sleep habits and their risk of getting sick, according to Aric Prather, PhD, assistant professor of Psychiatry at UCSF and lead author of the study. The findings add to the growing evidence of the importance of sleep for our health, he said.

“Short sleep was more important than any other factor in predicting subjects’ likelihood of catching cold,” Prather says. “It didn't matter how old people were, their stress levels, their race, education or income. It didn't matter if they were a smoker. With all those things taken into account, statistically sleep still carried the day.”

Scientists have long known that sleep is important for our health, with poor sleep linked to chronic illnesses, disease susceptibility and even premature death. Prather’s previous studies have shown that people who sleep fewer hours are less protected against illness after receiving a vaccine. Other studies have confirmed that sleep is among the factors that regulate T-cell levels.  T-cells help us fight infection.

Oh, this burns me!  I hate when he's right.  But I still hold the record for knowing how to do all the important things in our house  -- change the filter on the vacuum, DVR a program and where the butter is in the refrigerator.

Obsessed with Your Phone? There's a Name For You

Admit it.  You're never farther away from your smart phone than your wrist.  You eat with it right next to your plate.  You take it with you into the bathroom when you shower.  You sleep with it under your pillow (well, maybe not quite).

But it's true.  We're all obsessed with our smart phones -- and the information they provide every second.  Where is my kid now?  What happened with the market?  Pizza for dinner?.

Face it.  We can't live without them.

But now there's a name for it.  We're all nomophobes.

Say what?  It's a fear of being without your phone.

Researchers recently did a study that asked 300 undergrads some of these questions:

  • I would feel uncomfortable without constant access to information through my smartphone.
  •  I would be annoyed if I could not look information up on my smartphone when I wanted to do so.
  • Being unable to get the news (news, weather, etc.) on my smartphone would make me nervous.
  • Running out of battery in my smartphone would scare me.
  • If I did not have a data signal or could not connect to Wi-Fi, then I would constantly check to see if I had a signal or could find a Wi-Fi network.
  •  If I could not use my smartphone, I would be afraid of getting stranded somewhere.
  • I would feel anxious because I could not instantly communicate with my family and/or friends.
The higher your score, the more nomophobic you are.  Duh.

I'm probably not the poster child for this.  I very rarely used my phone when I first had it, hardly ever charged it -- and to my friends' annoyance, often never even turn it on.  (I do admit I check my email many times throughout the day!)

I fear I've passed this on to our son.  He just started high school and when a friend asked if he had it with him so she could text him about where to meet when they get picked up by her mom, he said no.  She was quite exasperated.  (Of course, she would never forget hers -- it's always pressed to her ear).

So what does this really mean?  Not much.  Some experts are afraid we've come up with a new disease to worry about, nomophobia.  But reassuringly, it's just plain old anxiety.   We're so used to constant immediate contact, we freak a little when we're  not.

Want to know a little more?  A studyin the UK found that 53% of mobile phone users would be very anxious if they lost or couldn't find their phones.  OK.  They have me there.  But that's more because I'm terrified I forget anything else these days. 

Even more unbelievable?  Adolescents would rather lose their pinky finger than their cell phone.

What has made us this way?  It's tantalizing to know what's going on everywhere, every minute every day. But that can create its own anxiety.  I think I was better off when I didn't know the market had crashed 1,000 points.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What Would Have Saved Alison Parker and Adam Ward?

Probably this is the last thing you would think about if you were planning to end your life, but did you know that the way we make decisions can affect whether life pushes us to this dire action?

According to newswise.com, difficulty making choices is one of the factors that make certain people vulnerable to suicide. 

Now, does that mean if you can’t decide between a Big Mac and a Whopper for lunch, you’re going to go out and get a gun?

Obviously not.  But in light of the recent awful killing of two journalists in Virginia this week, was that murderer obsessed with choices he couldn't make sense of, or grapple with?  We'll never know.  

I'm not looking for sympathy for him.  What he did was heinous and he deserved to rot in prison -- or die slowly, painfully -- if he hadn't killed himself. 

It hardly matters, in the end.  But researchers have found that high-risk decision-making was prevalent among many parents of individuals who committed suicide, which may serve to explain its apparent “inheritability.”

"People who have a tendency to make risky decisions lean toward solutions that provide short-term benefits despite the high risk, instead of solutions that are safer over the long term," says Dr. Fabrice Jollant, assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University, who has studied this for many years. "They also have difficulty identifying alternative solutions when faced with a problem.” This can explain the link between decision-making and suicide. “Within the context of a major depression, this difficulty making good decisions can translate into choosing death, which is a solution that ends the suffering immediately, despite its irreparable consequences, without seeing any alternative solutions.”  

This young man was troubled for a long time.  Listening to former co-workers describe him, he was clearly depressed and looking for ways to assuage it -- causing police to be called when he was fired and knocked over desk and computers at the same station the journalists worked for.  Following a man who called him out for his driving erratically, and threatening him.  Looking for signs of discrimination against him at every TV station where he worked.  Yes, he was spoiling for a fight, or as he put it in his last statement of 23 pages to ABC News, he was a "powder keg."

But who hasn't ever felt this way, that things were never going to get better?  I certainly can relate. Large parts of my life were lived like this.  I'm not saying that my inability, at first, to have a child, or my struggle with cancer (twice), or even a family history of depression, caused me to think of ending my life.  But I do remember living in a darkness that pressed down like a heavy blanket and not being able to see any light.

If I were less mentally healthy, might I have tried to kill myself?  Maybe.

 There's a sensible part of you that knows things will get better, and that you just have to sit tight.  But it's hard and I can imagine if you're already struggling with something wrong with your brain, or your chemistry, it's much harder to pull back.  

 Add to this the fact that making poor life choices in general creates a variety of stress factors. Individuals who make risky decisions experience more problems in their personal relationships, which represent classic triggers for suicidal crises, Dr. Jollant says.

For all we know, this killer was rejected a lot in life.  When he was criticized for his poor reporting skills, co-workers say he always took it badly.

So what keeps people who are depressed and despondent from harming themselves, and others?  Maybe good support systems, or talents they take joy in, none of which brings Alison Parker or Adam Ward back.

What would help is better mental health services.  And, most of all, laws that keep guns out of their hands.



Monday, August 17, 2015

High Gun Ownership in State? Don't Be a Cop

This shouldn't surprise anyone but police are more likely to be killed on duty in states that have high gun ownership.

In fact, in states with high private gun ownership, they're more than three times more likely to be killed on the job than those in states with the lowest gun ownership.

newswise.com points out that Camden and Newark, New Jersey, are perceived as two of the most violent cities in the nation, yet New Jersey’s police officers are among the least likely to get shot on the job. Montana, with its serene landscapes and national parks, has among the highest homicide rates for law enforcement officers. Why?

Simple.  There are many more guns in Montana.

Across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, homicides of police officers are linked to the statewide level of gun ownership, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Previous studies have linked firearm ownership with higher overall firearm death rates in the United States and internationally. Until now, none of the studies have examined the increased risk to law enforcement personnel.

“If we’re interested in protecting police officers, we need to look at what’s killing them, and what’s killing them is guns,” says the study's lead author, David Swedler, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. “We know that 92 percent of police officers killed in the line of duty are killed by guns, three-quarters of which are handguns."

On average, the researchers found that 38 percent of U.S. households have at least one gun, ranging from 4.8 percent of households in the District of Columbia to 62 percent in Wyoming.

Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Mississippi and Montana were in the top quintile both for gun ownership and for law enforcement homicides, while Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island were in the lowest quintile for gun ownership and police officer homicides.

“We found that officers aren’t being killed in states with high violent-crime rates. While violent crime rates didn't track closely to officer homicide rates, it was public gun ownership that had the strongest relationship,” Swedler says.

But hey, everyone should have a gun, right?!

Live with Beautiful Scenery, Weather? You Probably Don;t Go to Church

It seems like an oxymoron (love that word!).

But would you believe that people who live in the most beautiful places -- foam-tipped crashing waves in their backyard, trees full of birds and lush green bowers of leaves -- are the least religious?  Who else do they think created all this?

Now, before you dismiss me as a bible-thumper, I just marvel at the rush of pink streaking the early morning winter sky or the birds breaking the dawn in the dark in late spring.  I'm not sure how anyone can not see a force greater than themselves in this tableau.

But a new study says that communities with beautiful scenery and weather have lower rates of religious affiliation, according to newswise.com.  And it turns out they're just like me.  It's not about not believing in God, but about seeing the sacred in nature.  

“Beautiful weather, mountains and waterfronts can serve as conduits to the sacred, just like traditional religious congregations,” says lead author Todd W. Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in sociology in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

But the research is not necessarily a measure of whether enjoying the great outdoors tempts people away from going to a place of worship on a lovely weekend, Ferguson says. And “we’re not claiming that residents in areas richer with natural amenities are more likely to create a ‘Church of nature,’” he adds.

Just as natural amenities may be an economic commodity to attract tourists, new residents and developers, they also may be spiritual resources for some of the population — and compete with traditional local religious organizations, researchers say.

For some, nature may enhance what they find in membership or identification with a religious organization, newswise.com reports.

Then there are the religious “nones” — those who do not identify with any religious tradition but are not necessarily atheists or agnostics — who may find something of the divine in forests, lakes and mountains.

“When a person hikes in a forest to connect with the sacred, that individual may not feel a need to affiliate with a religious group because spiritual demands are being met,” Ferguson says. Some “nones” even may adhere to a nature-based spirituality.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Character of Giver More Important Than What's Got

I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise, but character traits mean more to us than material benefits when we're thinking about how much we like someone.

When it comes to making decisions involving others, the impression we have of their character weighs more heavily than do our assessments of how they can benefit us, a team of New York University researchers has found.

 “When we learn and make decisions about people, we don’t simply look at the positive or negative outcomes they bring to us—such as whether they gave us a loan or helped us move,” explains Leor Hackel, a doctoral candidate in NYU’s Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author. “Instead, we often look beyond concrete outcomes to form trait impressions, such as how generous a person seems to be, and these impressions carry more weight in our future social decisions."

Admit it.  Don't you look deeper into how a person treats you than the $2 they may have given you when you came up short at the counter?  This has happened to me often in the grocery store, where I just need that extra dime or dollar, and people I don't even know hand it over.  Yeah, the dime is nice. But what's even nicer is that the person did it.

The study offers new insights into how we learn about people from our interactions with them—and departs from existing scholarship, newswise.com reports. A prevailing view in the field is that, when we learn from positive or negative feedback, we come to see the people or things we learned about in terms of the benefits—or “reward value”—they bring us.

 In an experiment, participants learned about other people in a series of interactions in an economic game played over the computer. For each round of the game, the participant viewed two other players and chose one to interact with; the chosen player would then share an amount of money. Some shared a lot and others shared little.

Importantly, some players had larger pots of money than others, and so the amount they shared could represent a large or small proportion of their funds. This proportion represented a player’s generosity, which was independent from the absolute value of the money they shared.

The aim of this part of the study was to determine whether participants learned the relative generosity of a player—a “trait impression”—in addition to learning the monetary worth of the player.

The researchers’ statistical tests showed that participants learned generosity information (the proportion the player gave relative to his endowment) more strongly than reward value (the absolute amount the player actually gave). The strong tendency to focus on a player’s trait characteristics was striking, the study’s authors note, given that computer modeling revealed that a focus on a player’s reward value would have yielded more shared money to the participant. 

Finally, when participants were asked to choose which players they would prefer to interact with in a future cooperative task, their preferences were strongly guided by their trait impressions of players, relative to a player’s reward value. 

The researchers found that people naturally see others and even objects in terms of more general characteristics—and not just in terms of mere reward value.

 So I guess, even in our very materialistic society, sometimes character is wealth.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Punishment Works -- If You Can Do It!

It was one of my biggest failures, as a parent.


I would get mad and send my son as a toddler to his room, then go in my room and cry.  I was pretty lucky, he was a quiet, contained child who didn't get into too much (except his one rare climbing incident, at 18 months, when he split a glass table with his forehead).

But you have to discipline kids, there's no question about it.  A friend recommended a book, with the title "1 2 3 Magic"and the idea was to tell your kid you would count to three and then something would happen -- a "Go to your room," or a withdrawal of a promised treat or taking the computer away -- if he didn't stop it.

I failed at all three.

When he was small and wouldn't go to his room, I could pick him up and put him there.  But after not too long, the door would open and out he'd come and I would have to think of something else.  Or give up.

Some parents were successful at getting their kids to sit in a certain spot when they misbehaved, and stay there.  Not me.

When he got too big to pick up and carry, and I would have to kind of shove him down the hall, and close the door, and he would, again, try to come out, we put -- I'm ashamed to say -- a lock on the outside of his door (my husband's parents did that because he was a sleepwalker).  Now that he's a teen, the lock's on the other side,

I got a little better at the crying but then he began banging stuff against the wall and I'd have to go in and remonstrate, only to (nine times out of 10), let him out.

He really was a good kid so I didn't see it as all that bad that I was a failure at punishment.  And I suspect some of my inability to stay strong when punishing came from my own childhood, where any infraction was punished physically and with a great deal of yelling,

In those days, spanking was okay, even when done with a wooden spoon (my mom) or a strap (my dad).

I vowed I would never hit my child and I think I only did once, a tap on the bottom.  Then went into my bedroom and collapsed.

A new study says punishing is effective if you do it right, Timeouts, which the study focused on, were the right way, apparently -- if you could do it.  I'm thinking of getting a dog.  Maybe I'll have better luck with him.