A Sleep Scientist on the Vicious Cycle of Insomnia and Sleeping Pills

Maybe you’re one of the estimated 50 to 70 million Americans who suffer from sleep disorders, including insomnia; maybe you’re also among the 4 percent of American adults who rely on prescription medication in order to fall asleep. If so, Matt Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, has a bit of bad news for you.

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The Science of How Poverty Harms the Brain

The stress of poverty can change the brain in ways that further disadvantage the poor.

We already know the poor are getting poorer. The proportion of American adults living in low income families increased from 25 percent in 1971 to 29 percent in 2011. And growing up poor ups the chances that you’ll also be poor as an adult. But neuroscientists are beginning to see this trend on a new level as they study the impacts of low socioeconomic status on childhood brain development.

Scientists have long researched how income, wealth, prestige, and education—socioeconomic status, or SES—relate to other outcomes. They’ve consistently found higher SES individuals outperform lower SES individuals on intelligence tests and school achievement. One studydiscovered that the average IQ of a group of children from poor inner city mothers was just 80 (the average is 100 for every age). As parental income declines, so do their children’s reading and memory abilities. One study found that those who spend their entire childhood in poverty score 20 percent lower on working memory tests than children who have never been poor. Language abilities also correlate with SES. One classic study demonstrated that three-year-olds from professional families had two-times larger vocabularies than children whose families were on welfare.

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The Biology Behind ‘Psychosomatic’ Illness


Editor’s Note:
University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist Peter L. Strick, PhD, and colleagues recently published a study[1] in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences tracing the neural circuitry connecting various motor and affective regions of the brain to the adrenal medulla and possibly other organs. Dr Strick feels the findings could help explain how so-called “psychosomatic” conditions arise and suggest treatment targets for a variety of disorders. Medscape recently spoke with Dr Strick about his research.

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Harvard MRI Study Shows That Meditation Literally Rebuilds Your Brain’s Gray Matter In 8 Weeks

A study conducted by a Harvard affiliated team out of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) came across surprising conclusions regarding the tangible effects of meditation on human brain structure. An 8 week program of mindfulness meditation produced MRI scans for the first time showing clear evidence that meditation produces “massive changes” in brain gray matter.

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