November 20, 2013
The fresh cut grass and crisply-painted yard lines. The sound of helmets clashing in an epic stack of large men vying for a single ball. Stands packed high with thousands upon thousands of crazed, prideful, body-painted fanatics. The cheerleaders. The roar of the crowd. Chips, dip, and booze. Hilarious touchdown dances. Dementia, confusion, and depression.
That last bit may not be present on game day, but for many football players, it's brewing all along—with every clash, tackle, and fall.
Cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, are only now beginning to unfold with postmortem diagnoses and early symptoms of memory loss, depression, confusion, and aggression being reported by former NFL players.
And with the recent settlement involving 4,500+ former footballers against the NFL, the topic of CTE has quickly shifted from being more than just a medical issue.
October 25, 2013
We've all heard it. Many of us have experienced it. A few of us even swear by it—enough to ceremonially partake in a glass or two of wine before crawling into bed.
In fact, a little booze has been experimentally (and anecdotally) demonstrated to help us fall asleep faster and increase slow-wave, or deep, sleep in the first half of the night.
But its effect on other aspects of sleep—notably, the second half of the night—leaves much to be desired.
What causes alcohol's strange and dichotomous effect on the sleeping brain? And the real question—do you accept the nightcap or not?
October 3, 2013
Especially when pretty graphs are involved (see fancy screenshot at right).
As a sleep researcher, I was interested in my friends' use of sleep-tracking apps, and I received a pretty positive response when I prompted them for their thoughts:
"I'm a believer."
"When I use it right, I feel less groggy."
The website sleepyti.me and smartphone apps like Sleep Cycle use the average human's sleep pattern to determine the best window of time that you should wake up. The idea is that interrupting the "wrong" sleep cycle stage, such as slow-wave ("deep") sleep or REM (rapid eye movement, when dreaming occurs), results in grogginess upon awakening, as many of us can attest. Sleep researchers call this phenomenon "sleep inertia."
It's such a big deal that, in the sleep laboratory, we as techs are instructed not to wake participants if they're in REM, even if the experimental recording time is over.
So when a friend told me that he only feels refreshed after (according to his sleep-tracking app) eight REM cycles, I got a little skeptical, given the average person will only experience four or five REM periods per night.
What's the verdict on sleep-tracking apps? How do they work, and how accurate are they? Is it all a big scam, or perhaps the placebo effect at work?
September 23, 2013
Less than an hour later, I was loitering around the college's entrance in my coat, ready to go home for the day. I spotted Dr. P locking up his office and gave him a wave.
He eyed me strangely and walked a couple steps closer before returning the greeting. "Oh, didn't recognize you in the coat. You were wearing green earlier. Have a good night, Jordan."
It would have been a puzzling encounter if I didn't already know about his strange afflication.
Dr. P has prosopagnosia, or the inability to recognize faces. "I only identified you by the blonde ponytail," he admitted, evidently blind to my appearance in his class everyday—much less from our extensive conversation just an hour prior.
August 29, 2013
I got married to the love of my life on August 10—who I, of course, met in a neuroscience lab a few years ago.
Something inexplicable has been plaguing me the past few months, though. Getting married, including the months of stressful planning and nightmares leading up to the big day, was the happiest time of my life.
I reveled in choosing dresses and shoes, booking vendors, and constructing centerpieces. I saw my family and friends a lot over the past few months. And, after all, I was celebrating one of the purest and most joyful things that can be celebrated in this crazy, mixed-up world: love.
But, for some reason, I found myself crying a lot more. Not out of sadness or frustration or hopelessness, though.
I mean, I couldn't even keep it together while walking down the aisle—something every girl, growing up, likes to daydream about...right? (See pathetic photo.)
Most of us have heard that crying, in essence, is good for us—that it relieves us when we're sad, releases stress and toxins, yadda yadda.
So what was with my sobbing on what was inarguably the happiest day of my life?