People Need More Sleep in Winter

People Need More Sleep in Winter. A study in Germany suggests that left to their own devices, people need more sleep in winter, and experience more REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. A team at the Charité Medical University of Berlin recruited 292 patients who had undergone hospital sleep studies. Such studies are regularly carried out on patients who experience sleep-related difficulties. They make use of a laboratory where patients are asked to sleep naturally without an alarm clock. The length, quality and type of sleep can then be monitored. Although sleep disorders in this population could potentially affect the results, this method of recruitment offered a large cohort, evenly spread throughout the year, allowing for the investigation of month-to-month differences.

The team excluded certain patients eg those who were taking medications known to affect sleep, leaving 188 patients in the study. Most of their diagnoses showed no seasonal pattern, but it was noted that insomnia tended to be more commonly diagnosed towards the end of the year.

Even though the patients were based in an urban environment with low natural light exposure and high light pollution, which would be expected to interfere with any natural seasonal pattern, the researchers found subtle but striking changes as the seasons revolved. Total sleep time was about an hour longer in winter than in summer. REM sleep was 30 minutes longer in winter than in summer. Whilst the team acknowledged that these results would need to be validated in a population which experiences no sleep difficulties, they feel the seasonal changes may be even greater in a healthy population.

A co-author of the study, Dr Dieter Kunz, says “Seasonality is ubiquitous in any living being on this planet. Even though we still perform unchanged over the winter, human physiology is down-regulated, with a sensation of ‘running-on-empty’ in February or March. In general, societies need to adjust sleep habits, including length and timing, to season, or adjust school and working schedules to seasonal sleep needs.”

Robin’s comment: The idea of needing and indeed taking more sleep in winter, is very consistent with the traditional Chinese advice which I touch on in my Seasonal Tips pages.

(Seasonality of human sleep: Polysomnographic data of a neuropsychiatric sleep clinic. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 17 February 2023.)

Awe: Sunrises, Sunsets & Rainbows Are Good for Us

Awe: Sunrises, Sunsets & Rainbows Are Good for Us. Research by the University of Exeter suggests that some fleeting natural phenomena can affect our perceptions of landscape beauty, and more importantly, stimulate awe.

This is significant because research elsewhere has shown how awe is associated with reduced stress, improvements in wellbeing, improved memory and more innovative thinking. Work at the University of Toronto has even found an association between awe and reduced markers of inflammation in the body. The University of California showed in 2020 how cultivating awe can boost positive emotions.

Over 2500 UK-based participants were invited to take part in an online survey, in which they assessed two contrasting landscapes, one urban and one rural. Both types of landscape were designed to be broadly favourable, with features such as water which research shows as being preferred in a landscape scene. This was to try to avoid bias against an image of an unattractive built environment. Fleeting natural phenomena, including a sunset, sunrise and a rainbow, were then superimposed on the scenes for the participants to assess against eight criteria, including beauty and awe.

With regard to awe, the rural scene was considered significantly more awe-inspiring than the urban scene, but sunset, sunrise and a rainbow enhanced ratings of awe significantly. When asked, there was even a greater willingness to pay to visit such landscapes at the right time of day to witness these phenomena.

Awe: Sunrises, Sunsets & Rainbows Are Good for Us. The researchers say “By highlighting opportunities to experience events such as sunrise or sunset, those in both urban and natural settings could experience a small yet significant increase in this hard-to-elicit emotion. Accompanying rises in awe’s associated benefits, such as increased positive affect and higher levels of altruism (Piff et al., 2015; Sturm et al., 2020), may then follow suit. These outcomes might be particularly beneficial for ‘green prescriptions’ that seek to improve participant wellbeing (Robinson & Breed, 2019).” Further, with implications for the planning of our city scapes, “Moreover, by preserving open skies with eastern or western aspects, planning policies might seek to maximize people’s chances of viewing fleeting phenomena.”

So although you might feel some of this research just frames in measurable and scientific terms what we intuitively suspect to be true, it is a reminder not to hurry past the window in a rush when there is a wonderful sunrise just outside waiting to be viewed. The sight of it could be beneficial for your health.

(Beyond blue-sky thinking: Diurnal patterns and ephemeral meteorological phenomena impact appraisals of beauty, awe, and value in urban and natural landscapes. Journal of Environmental Psychology, March 2023.)

Lifestyle Advice by Acupuncturists Contributes to UK Healthcare

Lifestyle advice by acupuncturists contributes to UK healthcare. A survey by the University of Southampton of 352 traditional acupuncturists, suggests their work is supporting key UK public health targets for promoting healthy lifestyles. Four key health behaviours – diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption – are now established as primary causes of ill health in the UK. Large scale surveys have shown patients report making health behaviour changes as a result of complementary medical encounters. Usage of complementary medicine is associated with a belief that health is a result of personal behaviour that may include lifestyle.

This was the first nationwide survey of UK acupuncturists and their provision of lifestyle and behaviour change advice. Almost 58% of most recent patient visits included some such support, rising to 92% for chronic conditions in particular. Physical activity and dietary changes were most widely the targets, followed by sleep hygiene, alcohol and smoking.

(Lifestyle and health behaviour change support in traditional acupuncture: a mixed method survey study of reported practice (UK). BMC Complementary Medicine & Therapies, 21 September 2022.)

Differing Benefits of Morning & Evening Exercise in Men & Women

Differing benefits of morning & evening exercise American researchers have found that morning and evening exercise offer different benefits to men and women. For women, morning exercise reduces both abdominal fat and blood pressure, whilst evening exercise improves muscle performance. In men, evening exercise is preferable if the aim is to reduce blood pressure.

Teams from Skidmore College, NY, and the State Universities of Arizona and California, recruited 30 women and 26 men. All were already exercise-trained, and aged 25 to 55. They were all given a 12 week multi-modal exercise program (resistance, interval, stretching & endurance), and randomised to perform it in either the morning (06.00 to 08.00) or evening (18.30 to 20.30). Participants were given a meal plan with timings, and had access to advice from a dietician. At baseline and week 12, measurements were made of strength, endurance, power, body composition, blood pressure, and dietary intake.

At week 12, 27 women and 20 men completed the study. For women, morning exercise improved lower body peak power, and reduced abdominal fat percentage, total body fat mass, and blood pressure, whilst evening exercise enhanced endurance and upper body strength.

For men, evening exercise increased fat oxidation and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, whilst reducing systolic blood pressure and fatigue. Men showed no difference in physical performance or body fat variables with time of day. They did show significant improvements in mood state, regardless of time of day.

The research team concludes that clinicians and fitness trainers aiming to more precisely target one outcome over the other, should bear in mind time of day when making physical activity recommendations to patients and clients.

(Morning Exercise Reduces Abdominal Fat and Blood Pressure in Women; Evening Exercise Increases Muscular Performance in Women and Lowers Blood Pressure in Men. Frontiers in Physiology, online 31 May 2022.)

High Omega-3 Oil Intake may Prolong Life

Acupuncture in Exeter: a high intake of omega-3 oils may add five years to your life.A study following 2240 adults, mean age 65, over an eleven year period, indicates that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may prolong life by up to five years. For comparison, being a smoker at the age of 65 is likely to subtract 4.7 years of life compared to non-smokers. The research originally set out to establish lifestyle factors which could indicate whether an individual could be at increased risk of cardiovascular disease eg unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, smoking etc. A 2018 study on 2500 people suggested that good omega-3 intake was associated with reduced mortality from all causes.

(Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: the Framingham Offspring Cohort. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 16 June 2021.)