When cells in the nose sense potential invaders they release tiny sacs that fight them off and prime other cells to resist an onslaught.
Dr Benjamin Bleier, a sinus surgeon at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital said, “we have demonstrated in a live patient that the immune system attacks pathogens before they get into the body, it is the only example of this that we know of. The nose is a crucial frontier: every breath we take may contain dangerous bacteria, so the cells lining the nasal cavity secrete mucus that traps tiny particles.
Hairs on the surface of these cells, called cilia, beat to move the mucus along. Instead of being swept forwards so it can be rapidly expelled, the mucus is swept back towards the throat. You swallow it and then the gut deals with it from there.”
Bleier’s team and other researchers have recently found that, as well as secreting mucus the cells in the nasal cavity release billions of tiny sacs called exosomes. Once in the mucus, these sacs fuse with other cells, delivering proteins or RNA.
Suspecting that exosomes are part of a previously unknown defence system, Bleier and his colleagues studied tissue in the lab and people undergoing nasal surgery and now have strong evidence of this theory.
They found that when cells at the front of the nose are exposed to a potentially dangerous bacterium, the number of exosomes released into the mucus doubles within 5 minutes.
Their experiments suggest that exosomes can kill pathogens directly, although they don’t yet know how.
“They are as powerful at killing bacteria as an antibiotic, says Bleier, but not all exosomes kill. Many do not attack bacteria but instead fuse with cells towards the back of the nose and seem to both alert these cells and arm them with antibacterial proteins, which may explain why mucus is swept backwards. Mucociliary clearance is not just a garbage dump, it’s actually a circulatory system”.
The team now hopes to identify how exosomes fuse with cells, which would allow them to develop artificial exosomes that deliver drugs more effectively.
Dr Cecilia Lasser, at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, whose team has also been examining whether exosomes have a role in the immune system, agrees.
Exosomes were discovered in 1983, but it is only in the last decade that interest in them has increased. As well as seeming to arm our noses against invaders, they are involved in all kinds of processes, from normal body functioning to diseases, including cancer and asthma.
Michael Le Page
Updated February 8th 2019
A new study says snoring and obstructive sleep apnea can possibly lead to earlier cardiac function impairment in women.
Snoring is referred to as the vibration of respiratory structures resulting in obstructed air movement during breathing emitting grunting or snorting sounds while sleeping. 90 million people in the United States snore as suggested by The National Sleep Foundation. With age snoring may pose dangers to people as it can become a plausible cause for developing heart diseases. Obstructive Sleep Apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea affecting at least 18 million people in the United States.
This sleep condition interrupts with the sleeping and breathing pattern stopping the breathing repeatedly every 10 seconds, making it difficult to breathe comfortably while sleeping. This results in reduced oxygen in the blood and can briefly awaken sleepers throughout the night. More than 50 per cent of the people snoring loudly suffer from OSA.
In OSA, the throat muscles that keep the airway open tends to prevent the flow of air. A recent study presented at the annual Radiological Society meeting of North America, held in Chicago, IL: Snoring and OSA may make women susceptible to earlier cardiac impairments than in men.
Although sleep apnea relationship with heart diseases is yet to be established yet some specialists are of the view that individuals with this condition are at a risk of developing hypertension or high blood pressure.
People with sleep apnea suffer from co-existing diseases and therefore this makes it difficult to explain the relationship between sleep apnea and heart diseases.
Obesity contributes to the development of sleep apnea and makes an individual sleep deprived which further gives rise to obesity. During sleep, among other factors, when the throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, this soft tissue can cause the airway to get blocked.
Researchers interpreted The UK Biobank (International Health Resource) data of 4,877 participants associated with cardiac parameters linked with the diagnosed OSA and self-reported snoring.
The participants studied had received a cardiac MRI scan. The scientists divided the participants in three groups namely: those with OSA, those with self-reported snoring, and hose with neither.
On comparing the snoring group with the group with no sleep disorder, a striking difference in the left ventricular mass in women compared with men was found.
Increase in left ventricular mass indicates that the heart is required to work extra to meet the body’s needs. The similar patterns observed in people with no sleep disorder indicates undiagnosed OSA. The study also pointed out less number of diagnosed cases, thus hinting that OSA may be underdiagnosed across the board.
“We found that the cardiac parameters in women appear to be more easily affected by the disease and that women who snore or have OSA might be at greater risk for cardiac involvement.
Radiology resident at Munich University Hospital, Germany, Dr Curato was quoted saying, “I would encourage people who snore to ask their partner to observe them and look for phases during sleep when they stop breathing for a short while and then gasp for air.
If unsure, they can spend the night at a sleep lab where breathing is constantly monitored during sleep and even slight alterations can be recorded.”
To understand and uncover gender difference of the condition the team will further undertake more researches.
Health Site Editorial Team
Updated 12 December 2018
Loud snorers may be three times more likely to develop dementia, scientists have warned. Sleep apnoea - a common sleep disorder that cuts off oxygen supply and can cause snoring - can kill brain cells. Australian researchers are now launching the first study of its kind to discover if treating the condition can prevent dementia.
Professor Elizabeth Coulson, of the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland, said: 'Treating sleep apnoea may reduce dementia risk.People who suffer from sleep apnoea are two to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.Sleep apnoea - a common sleep disorder that cuts off oxygen supply and can cause snoring - can kill brain cells
This could be because hypoxia - lower levels of oxygen in the blood from poor breathing - causes nerve cell death.’ Sleep apnoea is the most common sleep disorder, affecting about 1.5 million people in Britain and more than 22 million in the US.
The condition is caused when the muscles and soft tissue in the throat relax, causing a blockage of the airways. It interferes with breathing, often stopping it altogether for short periods many times a night leading to lack of oxygen, restless sleep and heavy snoring.Twice more common in men than women, it can begin at any time, including childhood. Many sufferers are unaware they have it.
It can be treated by wearing a mask in bed, called a Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP), that blows air into the back of the throat.
Professor Coulson and colleagues are enrolling sleep apnoea patients aged 55 to 75 to see if wearing the mask can stop, or slow, brain damage.The team have already found inadequate oxygen levels during sleep can harm neurons and raise the risk of developing Alzheimer's - which slowly kills brain cells.
Professor Coulson explained people sleep apnoea results in lower levels of oxygen in the blood, known medically as hypoxia. This can triple the risk of Alzheimer's. The researchers have been investigating the mechanisms by which this occurs, finding hypoxia leads to the degeneration of an area of the brain important for attention and learning.
CPAP consists of a plastic mask that fits over the nose and mouth and is connected to a machine that blows air under low pressure continually into the throat. Professor Coulson said this keeps the airway open, helps maintain correct oxygen levels and, ultimately allows for a better quality sleep. The response is immediate and obvious after only a few hours or one night.
She said: 'The next stage of our research involves following patients with sleep apnoea over an extended period of time to determine whether CPAP protects against cognitive decline.'
Sleep apnoea is a serious condition which can lead to other problems such as high blood pressure, which in turn can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
Professor Pankaj Sah, director of the Queensland Brain Institute, said the research could lead to initiating early intervention in patients. He added: 'Sleep disturbances can occur up to 10 years prior to Alzheimer's disease. 'Considering that Alzheimer's affects roughly one third of the elderly population, this important research may inform preventative public health measures in the future.'
Sleep apnoea causes excessive sleepiness and tiredness during the day so that people often fall asleep at work, during meals or even standing up. In drivers or people working with heavy machinery, the dangers are clear. There is good evidence to show that the incidence of road accidents is high in individuals with the condition. It also means that people become depressed or bad tempered and lacking in concentration, disrupting their social lives and relationships.
Dementia affects more than 850,000 people in the UK - a figure expected to triple by 2050. And in the US, more than five million are affected.
Updated February 3rd 2018
Are you all too familiar with waking up in the morning with a blocked nose, feelings of pressure in your forehead and swelling around your eyes, cheeks and nose? If so, there’s a good chance you’re suffering from sinus pain caused by something you do when you are sleeping.
It may sound strange but sleeping with your mouth open and breathing through your mouth while sleeping greatly increases your chances of waking up with stuffy or blocked sinuses.
Here’s how it works: when you breathe through your nose you ventilate your sinuses, which helps keep them clear and healthy. If you breathe through your mouth when sleeping your sinuses and nasal passage aren’t getting ventilated. This is bad because your brain then decides to increase mucous production to help protect you from pathogens and deficits in carbon dioxide levels.
The increase in mucous production can lead to acute sinusitis and blocked nasal passages forcing you to breathe through your mouth, which only increases the risk of sinusitis.
When acute sinusitis is left untreated or exacerbated by mouth breathing it can develop further into chronic sinusitis, which, in extreme cases, may require sinus surgery to provide relief. Often sinus surgery can be avoided through the effective combination of medication and nasal breathing.
Make the switch today to maintain nasal breathing when sleeping and look forward to getting good quality sleep without sinus pain.
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The quantity – and quality – of sleep we get has been eroded over the past few decades, due almost exclusively to the increasingly frantic pace at which we live our lives. The internet, social media and technology that enables us to be available 24/7 means most of us are desperate for more hours in the day; and for many, it’s sleep that gets sacrificed.
The research into the consequences of long-term sleep deprivation makes alarming reading. While sleeping between seven and nine hours a night has been recommended by the World Health Organisation and ratified by the US’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a 2013 study by the National Sleep Foundation (an American education and advocacy group) showed that the average adult in the UK is getting by on 6hr 49min of sleep per night in the week.
People in Japan and the US fared even worse, on 6hr 22 min and 6hr 31 min respectively. Meanwhile, the Chinese are the world’s best sleepers, achieving a little more than nine hours on average.
Many people are consistently underslept. Research from non-profit scientific organisation RAND [Research and Development] in 2016 found that sleep deprivation costs the UK economy up to £37bn a year, or 1.86% of GDP, a figure calculated with data from employers, employees and information about sleep duration. They found that increasing nightly sleep from under six hours to between six and seven hours could add £22bn to the UK economy.
Meanwhile, it’s about more than productivity or GDP. Many researchers believe that enough sleep is quite simply the difference between life or early death. More than 20 large-scale epidemiological studies reported the same clear relationship: the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.
In reaction to this, Hobbs, Dunne et al are part of a growing band of young people – mostly millennial and, anecdotally, women – who observe a night-time regime of going to bed extremely early. Aided by data mostly gleaned from fitness trackers, these people focus on achieving “clean sleep” – often to the detriment of their social lives and relationships – because they believe it will make them look and feel more healthy, and be more productive at work.
It’s no wonder a good night’s sleep has evolved into the new status symbol. While bragging rights used to be attached to being a member of the macho “sleepless elite” – think Margaret Thatcher’s four hours a night and fashion designer Tom Ford’s purported three – today the wealthy and privileged boast about being well-slept. It’s a lifestyle encouraged by the Silicon Valley set, many of whom are spending millions of dollars – and hours – designing data-capturing devices to help people quantify how much rest they are getting and, ironically, missing out on rest themselves to do it.
Being able to prioritize sleep over a never ending night-time to-do list, anxieties about finances or workaday stresses is a luxury it seems money can buy. Almost overnight, the most basic of human functions has become aspirational. Researchers have even come up with a term to describe this obsession with sleep: “orthosomnia”. Aided by technology and encouraged by big business, sleep is becoming something we feel we can control.
And the best way to reduce sleep disturbance and snoring is to sleep with sleepQ+ on your lips.
Updated 21st January 2018
Our brains use sleep time to sort through our experiences. We "clean up" and get rid of information connections we don't need from the day just gone. Without adequate sleep, we may not be making enough space for new learning and memories.
Getting enough sleep also ensures we are safe to drive on the roads and less likely to make costly mistakes at work and home. Being awake for longer than 17 hours impairs your ability to think clearly as much as having a blood alcohol concentration above 0.05. After 24 hours awake, your ability to perform cognitive tasks is as poor as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.10.
Last year's Australian sleep survey found 29 per cent of Australian workers reported making errors at work in the previous three months specifically because they hadn't got enough sleep. One in five respondents reported having nodded off while driving.
Getting enough sleep may also be helpful for managing our food intake. When people are only allowed to sleep for short periods of time, they are more likely to choose to snack food, particularly sweet snacks.
The body's response to eating food changes when sleep is restricted; as little as one week of restricted sleep is associated with glucose (sugar) levels approaching pre-diabetic levels.
The benefit is not limited to individual well-being. Australian workers who feel they get inadequate sleep are more likely to take a sick day than those who feel they get enough.
So, how much sleep do we need?
The American Sleep Foundation recommends adults aged between 18 and 64 get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, while older adults should aim for seven to eight hours.
Your ideal sleep duration will be unique to you and fall somewhere within the recommended range. To find out how much sleep you need, try a week-long experiment and modified sleep regime. Think of it as your holiday homework:
- Cut back on how much you are doing during the week, particularly in the evening, to give yourself time to wind down.
- Put away the technology. A tech ban in the bedroom might be the best start.
- Create a dark sleeping space.
- Get rid of the alarm clock so your body has the chance to tell you how much sleep you need.
- Keep a week-long diary of your sleep times and daytime energy levels to get a feel for how much sleep feels good the next day. You might find you need to sleep longer than usual for the first couple of nights. But remember, this is an exercise to work out how sleep can help you feel good rather than a test to see how much sleep you "must" or "can" get as this pressure may not help with sleeping well.
You might feel a little groggy the next morning, which is normal, but you should wake up – and get up – when you feel well rested.
By seeing where you sit on the sleep spectrum, you can work out the bed and wake times that best suit your needs.
How to get more sleep
Here are some starting points to make sleep more of a priority.
1) Reduce your exposure to bright lights in the evening
Allowing your body to naturally respond to the light and dark cycle each day can lead to earlier bed times.
Ditching distractors that delay our bedtimes can help shift the increase in the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy, to earlier in the evening.
As little as one weekend of camping away from electrical lighting, including blue light in our devices, can help us become early risers.
If there's no time for camping this Christmas, try a "camp at home" approach by reducing your light exposure throughout the house at night; dim and fewer lights in the evening is ideal.
2) Establish a routine
While some find falling asleep a breeze, this can be a slow process for many. Consistent activities – such as brushing your teeth, reading a book – at a regular time each evening can help your body recognise and prepare for heading to bed.
Make sure this time is in addition to the time you set aside for sleep, so you have enough time to wind down before bed.
This routine extends to consistent wake times. A regular bed and wake time schedule should be complimentary.
3) Talk to your doctor about your sleep
If you're told you snore, or you never feel refreshed even after what seems to be a long sleep, talk to your GP about whether you might have an underlying disorder that makes getting enough sleep harder.
According to last year's national sleep survey, 8 per cent of Australians have diagnosed sleep apnoea, 18 per cent have restless leg syndrome and 20 per cent have insomnia. Getting help for these conditions will impact your physical and mental health.
While time spent sleeping may feel akin to "doing nothing" for your health, the benefits of regular, refreshing sleep for your brain and body mean that it should be on your New Year's resolution list right next to healthy eating and exercise.
Amy Reynolds, Doug McEvoy, Robert Adams, Sally Ferguson.
Updated January 4th 2018
Thinking you have a sleep problem, even if you don't, may be just as bad for your overall well-being as actually having a sleep disorder, a new review published in Behaviour Research and Therapy suggests.
Kenneth L. Lichstein, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, reviewed 20 existing studies that looked at both how people described their own sleep and how researchers measured the quantity and quality of their sleep. In those studies, he found that 37 percent of participants who identified themselves as having insomnia were actually "normal" sleepers as defined by the respective study researchers.
That has consequences: he writes "perceived sleep disturbance poses a health risk, even when accompanied by good sleep." And according to Lichstein, those people are at a greater risk of things like fatigue, hypertension, self-stigma, depression, suicidal ideation and anxiety -- all because they think they're bad sleepers.
Or as Alex Fradera writes in a piece about the findings in the British Psychological Society research digest, "these 'complaining good sleepers' can have as high impairment in terms of daily fatigue, anxiety and depression as those suffering under a clinical deficit of sleep."
"Insomnia is a sleep disorder," Lichstein writes, "but it may also be a cognitive appraisal disorder." While there's a long history of discrepancies in self reported sleep and recorded sleep duration, Lichstein's review emphasizes the consequences for people who adopt an "insomniac identity."
Part of this identity may come from unrealistic sleep expectations and anxiety about sleep, he writes in the review, which can be predictive of actual sleep disorders. For instance, he notes that subjects "convinced that normal sleepers fall asleep in less than 10 minutes" might think their own need for 20 minutes to doze off must mean they're an insomniac. "For some, though the night problem exists only in their mind, it still degrades experience during both night and day," he writes.
Insomnia is defined by having difficulty falling asleep, returning to sleep or staying asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It's a 24-hour disorder characterized by a "dreary quality of life," Lichstein writes in the review, as it throws you off the next day because it can result in anxiety, fatigue, drowsiness and difficulty learning or remembering.
Approximately 40 million Americans experience insomnia a year, according to the National Sleep Foundation. But as Lichstein points out, most people who have trouble sleeping don't see a doctor (hint: you should consider seeing a doctor if you have trouble sleeping), and when they do, "the diagnosis of insomnia is almost always initiated by the patient."
That means "people who adopt an insomnia identity account for virtually the entirety of the treated and untreated population of people with insomnia," he writes. That's complicated for many reasons, one being that those people could be getting the wrong treatment. "Between 36 to 39 percent of people treated for insomnia have been prescribed hypnotics and exposed to hypnotic side effects, when sleep was already good," he writes.
A more viable treatment option (and one that has already been in use) may be cognitive behavioral therapy specifically for insomnia, Lichstein notes in the review, which could help people who think they have insomnia reframe how they think about their sleep. "There may be many people out there suffering because of their insomnia identity rather than an actual lack of sleep."
By Shelby Lorman
Updated 25th November 2017
NASA claims that sleeping with a pineapple plant can help to reduce snoring. The plant is said to produce oxygen and improve air quality throughout the night.
There's nothing more annoying than falling into a deep sleep, only to be woken by the sound of a chainsaw reverberating from your partner's side of the bed. But rather than head for the sofa, scientists claim there is one simple way to cease snoring. According to research, sleeping with a pineapple plant can help to reduce those midnight motors and help snorers – and their partners – get a better night's sleep.
NASA scientists claim that sleeping with a pineapple plant in your bedroom can help prevent snoring. NASA reports that pineapple plants produce more oxygen and improve air quality throughout the night and therefore, aid better (and quieter) sleep. With almost a quarter of Brits regularly sleeping in different rooms due to their partner's snoring, this could be the bedroom revolution British couples have been waiting for to get them out of prickly night-time situations.
Grown in Holland, the plants take between 21 and 24 months to develop to produce the inedible, miniature pineapple that adorns the top. The plant produces oxygen and improves air quality throughout the night and therefore, aid better and quieter sleep. In the hope of staving off festive fall outs, British supermarket Asda has introduced the 'miracle' plant to its shelves. Phil Smith, Asda Plant Buyer, comments: 'Snorts, snuffles and splutters affect a quarter of Brits, so for those 16 million snorers, Asda's Pineapple Plant could be a dream come true – even more-so for sleep deprived partners. 'For those lucky enough to sleep through the night without the disturbance of snoring, the plant is a chic addition to the home which is easy to care for and adds a little touch of The Tropics to any room.'
While experts have long preached the benefits of house plants, scientists are now saying that popping some greenery on your bedside table can boost your sleep and health. The presence of plants reduces stress, anxiety and helps with the removal of airborne pollutants.
Elle Decor and The Joy of Plants delved into research from NASA and the American College to determine which houseplants are best suited to your bedroom - and the benefits they provide.
Researchers say that the palm is brilliant for anyone prone to colds and sinus problems because it releases moisture into the air. This, in turn, makes it much easier to breathe so will help you nod off quicker.
Why? It releases oxygen continuously throughout the night, making it an ideal bedroom addition. It also fights benzene (which is found in detergents and plastics) and formaldehyde (in varnishes and floor finishes) so helps keep the air super pure.
Indeed, researchers at the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that English ivy in particular removes 78 per cent of airborne mould in just 12 hours.
Updated November 18th 2017
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Mouth breathing really increases the chance of waking up with sinus pressure and a stuffy nose.
It might seem logical that mouth breathing occurs because the nose is congested, but that is not always the case. The brain of a mouth breather thinks carbon dioxide is being lost too quickly from the nose and stimulates the goblet cells to produce mucous in the nose to slow the breathing.
This creates a cycle of mouth breathing triggering mucous formation, nasal passage blocking, leading to more mouth breathing. So in fact, mouth breathing can cause nasal congestion leading to more mouth breathing.
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Updated 14th November 2017
Three-quarters of Australians whose spouses suffer from insomnia are giving advice that may exacerbate the symptoms, experts say.
A new study has found 73 per cent have encouraged their tired spouse to go to bed early or wake up late, which is contrary to what sleep specialists recommend.
Sleeping with the enemy?
Three quarters of Australians whose spouse suffers from insomnia are giving misguided advice that may actually make the sleeplessness worse, experts say.
"When it comes to treating insomnia, the focus is on the individual, but we're learning that bed partners can play a big role," said lead researcher Alix Mellor, from Monash University's Institute of Cognitive and Clinical Neurosciences.
"Most people think if you increase your sleep opportunity – that is, the time that you spend in bed – that's a good thing, but the research shows you should only be in bed when you're just going to sleep, so people are giving the wrong advice."
Dr Mellor is leading an international team who are investigating the behaviour of people whose partner has insomnia and whether it exacerbates the symptoms – an emerging area of research. She said 60 per cent of Australians shared a bed and about one-third had a sleeping problem.
So far, 44 couples are in the trial, but the research team want more. The trial involves behaviour modification, and no medicine.
The researchers found 45 per cent had encouraged their partners to do other things in bed, such as watching TV or reading a book, which is also against specialist advice. They also found 32 per cent had told their partners to have naps, drink coffee and reduce activities during the day, and 16 per cent had advised them to sip an alcoholic drink.
"These aren't helpful because we really want to be building sleep drive across the day, and having a nap decreases that," Dr Mellor said.
"Some people might say, 'have a glass of wine before bed, I noticed it makes me a bit tired'. But again, really bad advice, it may help them to get to sleep, but it does not help them stay asleep."
The researchers also observed how people changed their behaviour to accommodate their partners, and discovered 100 per cent had avoided going out and socialising at least once in the past three months, with their partner's wellbeing in mind.
"Using the bed only for sleep and sex is important. So don't watch TV, don't look at your phone," Dr Mellor said.
The study is one of the first to reveal what partners of individuals with insomnia do, with results suggesting more can be done to educate partners around helpful insomnia strategies.
"It's too early to definitively say treatment should involve the partners, but we think treatment can be improved, and there are benefits by addressing the partners' behaviour," she said.
The early results were presented at Sleep DownUnder 2017, the annual conference of the Australasian Sleep Association, in New Zealand. The study is being supervised by Professor Sean Drummond, a sleep expert at Monash University.
Dr Maree Barnes, the association's president, said poor sleep was a "huge" problem that caused billions of dollars worth of damage – car accidents, low productivity and increased healthcare costs.
"It's a huge problem and one that is really under-recognised and under-appreciated in our society," she said.
"I've seen it myself, people who want to help but suggest things like drinking whisky before bed, which might help you go off to sleep, but as it wears off, becomes a stimulant and wakes you."
Updated November 11th 2107
It's a cruel fact that quality shut-eye deserts women when they need it most.
Like maintaining strong, healthy bones and keeping unwanted weight off, getting a good night's sleep is another thing that becomes more difficult with age.
Unfortunately for women, the quest for quality sleep can be more challenging than it is for men — and not just because they're more likely to be disturbed by a partner's snoring, as a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine revealed.
"Women are twice as likely as men to report difficulty with their sleep," Dr Moira Junge, a psychologist and sleep specialist from the Sleep Health Foundation tells Coach.
"Some are affected worse than others, but most women report some adverse changes to their sleep quality and quantity with menopause.
"It's often the first time a woman has experienced difficulties with sleep in her life."
What's stealing women's sleep?
Changes in the body during pre-, peri- and post-menopause and the stress of balancing work and caring for family members are the main factors, Junge says.
"Studies have shown a relationship between menopause and sleep disturbance due to the distinct and specific changes to a woman's hormones (during this time)."
There has been surprisingly little research into the link between hormonal changes in women and sleeplessness, but hot flashes, night sweats, and anxiety and depression are common symptoms of menopause that are likely to affect sleep.
"The middle to late life stage is also often a peak time for a woman as she juggles the demands of work, dependent children and aging parents," Junge explains.
"It's common for women to be the main caregiver in these roles, and so there is a lot of pressure on them, hence making sleeping more difficult."
How to reclaim your 'Zzzs'
A fluctuating body temperature could be keeping you up at night, Junge says.
"Have an adequate combination of bedding options readily available to deal with any hot flashes in the night, such as a light sheet or blanket, as well as a heavier doona."
Reducing screen time one or two hours before bed, being exposed to lots of sunlight during the day and getting up at the same time every morning may also help.
Junge adds that while sleep routines are important, it's better to go to bed when you feel tired, rather than forcing yourself to if your mind is still racing and anxious.
"It's about going to bed when you feel sleepy and tired, and this may vary slightly from night to night depending on many variables.
"You're better off going to bed when you feel ready, rather than being strict with yourself because you're concerned about not being consistent."In fact, it's an unfair irony that worrying about it is the worst thing you can do when trying to improve the quality of your sleep.
"The most important thing to know is that sleep is going to be better and easier to obtain if there is no distress around sleep itself," Junge says.
"That should be your guiding principle, and the rest is about trying to optimize your health, fitness and general wellbeing, and minimise stress as much as possible."
A visit to a GP will help you to determine the best sleep-inducing solution for you, whether it's melatonin tablets, medication or identifying and reducing stressors.
Erin Van Der Meer
Updated November 9th 2017
A common and potentially serious sleep disorder, obstructive sleep apnea affects at least one quarter of U.S. adults and is linked to increased risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. In a paper published today in the journal Neuron, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) identified specific neural circuitry responsible for rousing the brain of mice in simulated apnea conditions.
The findings could lead to potential new drug therapies to help patients with obstructive sleep apnea get more rest.
Often but not always marked by loud snoring, sleep apnea occurs when a sleeping person's airway collapses and closes off breathing. Dipping oxygen (O2) levels and rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the blood alert the sleeping brain to the problem, rousing the sleeper just long enough to re-establish breathing.
"A person with apnea wakes up and starts breathing again and this cycle can repeat hundreds of time per night, so the person never gets very deeply asleep," said senior author Clifford B. Saper, MD, Chair of the Department of Neurology at BIDMC. "In the morning, they may not remember that they have not had a restful night's sleep but will feel very tired."
Fragmented sleep can leave people with apnea with significant impairments to cognition, mood and daytime alertness; it may also increase cardiovascular risk. But what if scientists could prevent the brain from rousing itself hundreds of times per night in response to rising CO2 levels, while allowing it to reestablish regular respiration again?
"Our goal was to identify the circuitry responsible for waking the brain up during sleep apnea, which is distinct from the part of the brain that controls breathing," said Saper, who is also the James Jackson Putnam Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School. "If we could keep the brain from waking up during apneas and activate only the part of the brain that opens up the airways, people with obstructive sleep apnea would still be able to get a good night's rest."
Using an enclosure with adjustable atmospheric levels of O2 and CO2, Saper and colleagues mimicked the effects of OSA in mice by changing the ratio of the two gases every five minutes for 30 seconds.
Then, Saper and colleagues focused on a subset of neurons - called PBelCGRP cells- known to show activity in response to elevated CO2 levels. The team used mice with these cells genetically-altered in such a way that researchers could activate or suppress the neurons at will using light or drugs to trigger genetic switches.
Known as optogenetics and chemogenetics, these experiments demonstrated that activating these cells will wake mice up and keep them up for hours. They also showed that suppressing PBelCGRP cells' activity would let mice sleep even as CO2 levels in the air around them rose.
Taken together, these findings show that the PBelCGRP cells wake up the brain and are necessary for arousal.
In the final experiment, the researchers followed the PBelCGRP neurons' long-reaching branches (called axons) to the cells they connect with in other regions of the brain.
Without disrupting the cells' entire activity, the researchers switched off PBelCGRP neurons' connection to a key site in the basal forebrain. That resulted in a nearly complete loss of sensitivity to CO2 arousal.
Saper and colleagues note that rising CO2 levels may not be the only factor that repeatedly rouses people with sleep apnea throughout the night.
Negative air pressure in the collapsed upper airway may also send "wake-up" messages to the brain via another neuronal circuit. Or PBelCGRP neurons may rouse a sleeping brain in response to a variety of stimuli, not just rising CO2 levels, the researchers suggest. Learning which neurons regulate arousal could allow scientists to develop drugs to treat obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep disorders.
"The long-term goal of this research is to come up with drugs that will affect specific pathways in the brain," Saper said. "The next step is to see if we can use drugs to prevent the wake-up response while augmenting the opening of the airway. That way, having an apnea won't wake a person up."
Updated November 3rd 2017