The bedtime story: Pre-slumber reading benefits you in a slew of ways beyond relaxation

September 24, 2019

If your go-to bedtime routine includes winding down with a great book, you may be experiencing a host of benefits beyond diversion and relaxation, according to a recent survey of 1,000 people by the sleep product review site Sleep Junkie.

Respondents who said they read in bed at night ranged from those who read once a week to those who open a book every night, according to a report on the study by Real Simple:

  • 11% said they read one or two nights a week;
  • 12% read three or four times;
  • 7%, five or six; and
  • 8% percent read every single night.

And of the avid readers getting a few pages in during five or more nights a week, the average time spent reading was 43 minutes.

The results don’t lie: Whether they crack open a book three times a month or every night without fail, all respondents said doing so promotes relaxation, reduces stress, induces sleep, centers the mind, and improves sleep quality. All good things.

In fact, Real Simple reports, nearly 75% of bedtime readers believe they’d have a harder time falling asleep if they didn’t regularly read in bed, and almost everyone (96%) would recommend reading before bed to others.

Compared to only 64% of non-bedtime readers, 76% of bedtime readers report being satisfied with the quality of their sleep. What’s more, over the course of a week, bedtime readers self-report that they clock an extra hour and 37 minutes more Zs than non-bedtime readers.

We know sleep is vital for everything from maintaining physical health to improving cognitive fitness, and clearly reading before bed seems to boost both the quality and quantity of sleep. So it’s no surprise that this nightly ritual also may indirectly affect other important aspects of life—including professional/financial success, physical health, and overall optimism.

According to the survey results, bedtime readers:

  • Make more money: Respondents who read before bed make an average income of $39,779, while nonreaders make $36,094.
  • Make healthier choices: They are 12% more liekly to eat a healthy diet, 14% more likely to engage in “healthy % more likely to keep regular doctor/dentist appointments.
  • Have a more positive life outlook: When respondents were asked whether they believe they “get the most out of themselves,” nighttime bookworms took the cake, with 79% saying “yes,” compared to only 59% of nonreaders. And do they live life to the fullest? Heck yes, say 70% of bedtime readers, in contrast to 58% of nonreaders.

So, don’t save those bedtime stories just for the kids. A little Goodnight Moon might help all of us.

Research contact: @RealSimple

Testing the waters: Researchers find contaminants in U.S. tap water could cause100,000+ cancer diagnoses

September 23, 2019

How many glasses of water should you drink a day? None, if you get your water from the tap and reside in a major U.S. city, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group announced on September 19.

Indeed, a study that the group claims is the first cumulative assessment of cancer risks due to 22 carcinogenic contaminants found in drinking water nationwide has found “a toxic cocktail of chemical pollutants in U.S. drinking water that could result in more than 100,000 cancer cases” annually.

In a paper published in the journal, Heliyon, EWG scientists used a novel analytical framework that calculated the combined health impacts of carcinogens in 48,363 community water systems in the United States—but did not include water quality information for the 13.5 million American households that rely on private wells for their drinking water.

“Drinking water contains complex mixtures of contaminants, yet government agencies currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one,” said Sydney Evans, lead author of the paper and a science analyst at EWG. “In the real world, people are exposed to combinations of chemicals, so it is important that we start to assess health impacts by looking at the combined effects of multiple pollutants.”

This cumulative approach is common in assessing the health impacts of exposure to air pollutants but has never before been applied to a national dataset of drinking water contaminants. This model builds on a cumulative cancer risk assessment of water contaminants in the State of California and offers a deeper insight into national drinking water quality. As defined by U.S. government agencies, the calculated cancer risk applies to a statistical lifetime, or approximately 70 years.

Most of the increased cancer risk is due to contamination with arsenic, disinfection byproducts,;and radioactive elements such as uranium and radium, the researchers said.

Water systems with the highest risk tend to serve smaller communities and rely on groundwater. These communities often need improved infrastructure and resources to provide safe drinking water to their residents. However, large surface water systems contribute a significant share of the overall risk due to the greater population served and the consistent presence of disinfection byproducts.

“The vast majority of community water systems meet legal standards,” said Olga Naidenko, EWG’s vice president for Science Investigations. “Yet the latest research shows that contaminants present in the water at those concentrations—perfectly legal—can still harm human health.”

“We need to prioritize source water protection, to make sure that these contaminants don’t get into the drinking water supplies to begin with,” Naidenko added.

Consumers who are concerned about chemicals in their tap water can install a water filter to help reduce their exposure to contaminants.

Research contact: @EWG

Pretty, pretty good: Larry David narrates the ‘Go the F**k to Sleep’ sequel for grownups

September 20, 2019

When the news broke that Larry Davidbest known for his writing, producing, and acting on the TV series Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm—would be narrating Adam Mansbach’s latest profanity-filled “bedtime story for adults,” most people thought the casting choice was, umm … “Pretty, pretty good.”

Mansbach is the author behind blunt parenting favorites “Go the F**k to Sleep” and “You Have to F**king Eat.” The third installment in his series of “children’s books for adults” is “F**k, Now There Are Two of You” from UK-based Dreamscape Media—described as “an honest look at the reality of welcoming a second child,” according to a report by HuffPost.

David’s narration is a monologue from a potty-mouthed parent to a firstborn child about the new addition to the family. Given the comedian’s reputation as someone who isn’t overly sentimental about parenthood, it’s a match made in heaven, the news outlet raves.

“When I heard that Larry David was going to voice this book, I jumped up and down with joy—which was awkward, because I was getting a vasectomy at the time,” Mansbach stated in a press release. “David’s a f**king national treasure, and he did just as fantastic a job as you’d expect. I can’t wait for you to hear it.”

Among those who have previously narrated the books are actors Samuel L. Jackson, Bryan Cranston, Jennifer Garner, and LeVar Burton.

Both the print version and audiobook of “F**k, Now There Are Two of You” will be available on October 1.

Research contact: @HuffPost

Weigh in: Katmai National Park invites you to vote for the winner of Fat Bear Week 2019

September 19, 2019

It’s that time of the year when we grin and “bear it.” At Alaska’s Katmai National Park & Preserve, the 2,000 resident brown bears are beefing for their winter hibernation, as can be seen on the world-famous Brown Bear Cams—including the Brooks Falls Cam, the Lower River Cam, and The Riffles cam, which have been installed at the 4 million acre remote wildlife habitat.

An outstanding seasonal migration of salmon is the reason why the bears gather in such abundance at this park—and add pounds aplenty starting in September.

The cameras show a social and lively population, each bear with its own individual quirks. Mike Fitz, a former Katmai park ranger, comments, “We continue to see the stories of individual bears unfold along the river. Bear 402 utilizes her two decades of experience to raise her three yearlings while one young bear, 719, is experiencing motherhood for the first time.

“At Brooks Falls,” Fitz adds, “the hierarchy continues to shuffle. Bear 856, a large and assertive adult male, continues to reign at the top, but he’s nearly 20 years old. How long will he be able to maintain his position as the river’s most dominant bear?”

In addition to sharing Katmai with millions of Bear Cam viewers worldwide, the park also is looking forward to hosting its Fifth Annual Fat Bear Week contest in early October.

During the event, O, The Oprah Magazine reports 12 of the paunchiest bears will be pitted against each other, as fans vote for their favorite big boys and girls.

Fat Bear Week 2019 is tentatively scheduled to begin Wednesday, October 2, and to conclude with the winner announced on Fat Bear Tuesday, October 8.

Mike Fitz, founder of Fat Bear Week, recently observed, “Overall the bears who use Brooks River appear fat and healthy. I thought Fat Bear Week 2018 might be the fattest Fat Bear Week ever, but the “contestants” could beat that this year! Some already look ready to hibernate.”

To vote, starting in early October, visit facebook.com/katmainpp

Research contact: @KatmaiNPS

Have your heard? Never kiss a baby’s ear

September 18, 2019

Most new parents are “playing by ear” when it comes to baby care, but there’s one important thing to know: There’s one place you should never kiss a baby—or anyone else, for that matter—and that’s the ear, according to Professor of Audiology Levi Reiter of Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

Indeed, according to a report by NBC News, an innocent kiss right on the ear opening creates strong suction that can tug on the delicate eardrum, resulting in a recently recognized condition known as “cochlear ear-kiss injury.”

Such a kiss can lead not only to permanent hearing loss, but to a host of other troubling ear symptom—among them, ringing, sensitivity to sound, distortion, and aural fullness.

Dr. Reiter has been studying the phenomenon ever since a woman came to him five years ago with a strange story about going deaf in one ear immediately after her five-year-old kissed her there.

“I thought this lady was a unique case,” says Reiter. After a bit of research, though, he discovered another case of ear-kiss injury reported in the 1950s.

Once the so-called “kiss of deaf” was written up in Newsday, however, Reiter started hearing from people worldwide. He now has identified more than 30 ear-kiss victims (and hopes to hear from more).

Ear-kiss patients exhibit a characteristic pattern of hearing loss, Reiter said, with hearing most diminished in the frequency range of unvoiced consonants, such as “ch” and “sh.”

“There are a lot of cases of unknown unilateral hearing loss in kids, and I am sure that a good portion are from a peck on the ear,” he says.

Babies and small children are particularly vulnerable to hearing damage via kiss, simply because their ear canals are smaller. A baby will cry after such a painful kiss, he told NBC News, but “kids cry for a lot of reasons.” Unfortunately, hearing loss usually isn’t identified until years later, during a school screening.

Unilateral hearing loss can be acquired from a blow to the ear, impulse noise (like an exploding firecracker) on one side of the head, or a Q-tip pushed too far.

An ear-kiss is another cause, formerly undiscovered, Paul Farrell, associate director for Audiology Practices at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, told the network news outlet. “It is a fascinating phenomenon,” he said. “I would consider it an emerging topic in the field.”

Reiter believes that the intense suction on the eardrum pulls the chain of three tiny bones in the ear. The third bone, the stirrup-shaped stapes, then tugs on the stapedial annular ligament, causing turbulence in the fluid of the cochlea, or inner ear.

Reiter is full of horror stories of ear-kiss injuries resulting from normal everyday activities: a hairdresser sending a client off with a nice hairdo and a smack on the ear; a relative’s air-kiss going astray after a quick turn of the head; a mother seeing her little girl off to school with a loving smooch.

Still, the prevalence of the injury is unknown.

“People are going to doctors who are pooh-poohing this,” says Reiter. “One reason these people wrote to me in the first place was that they were getting nowhere. The doctors were making fun of them. They felt humiliated.”

“My granddaughter is a kindergarten teacher and I tell her never kiss any of your little tykes on the ear,” he says.

The professor told NBC News that he is preparing to submit his most recent findings to the International Journal of Audiology and the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Food for thought: Don’t make major decisions on an empty stomach

September 17, 2019

We all know that food shopping on an empty stomach is a bad idea—but research conducted at the University of Dundee in Scotland suggests that food is actually needed for thought and people might want to avoid making any important decisions about the future when they are hungry.

The study, carried out by Dr. Benjamin Vincent of the university’s Psychology Department, found that an unsatisfied appetite significantly altered people’s decision-making, making them impatient and more likely to settle for a small reward that arrives sooner than a larger one promised at a later date.

Study participants were asked questions relating to food, money, and other rewards when they were satiated; and again when they had skipped a meal. For three different types of rewards, when hungry, people expressed a stronger preference for smaller hypothetical rewards to be given immediately rather than larger ones that would arrive later.

The researchers noted that if you offer people a reward now or double that reward in the future, they were normally willing to wait for 35 days to double the reward, but when hungry this plummeted to only 3 days.

The work builds on a well-known psychological study where children were offered one marshmallow immediately or two if they were willing to wait 15 minutes. Those children who accepted the initial offering were classed as more impulsive than those who could delay gratification and wait for the larger reward. In the context of the Dundee study, this indicates that hunger makes people more impulsive even when the decisions they are asked to make will do nothing to relieve their hunger.

While it was perhaps unsurprising that hungry people were more likely to settle for smaller food incentives that arrived sooner, the researchers found that being hungry actually changes preferences for rewards entirely unrelated to food.

This indicates that a reluctance to defer gratification may carry over into other kinds of decisions, such as financial and interpersonal ones. Dr. Vincent believes it is important that people know that hunger might affect their preferences in ways they don’t necessarily predict.

There is also a danger that people experiencing hunger due to poverty may make decisions that further entrench them in a bad situation. “We found there was a large effect, people’s preferences shifted dramatically from the long- to short-term when hungry,” he said. “This is an aspect of human behavior which could potentially be exploited by marketers so people need to know their preferences may change when hungry.

“People generally know that when they are hungry they shouldn’t really go food shopping because they are more likely to make choices that are either unhealthy or indulgent. Our research suggests this could have an impact on other kinds of decisions as well,” said Vincent, adding. “Say you were going to speak with a pensions or mortgage advisor – doing so while hungry might make you care a bit more about immediate gratification at the expense of a potentially more rosy future.

“We wanted to know whether being in a state of hunger had a specific effect on how you make decisions only relating to food or if it had broader effects, and this research suggests decision-making gets more present-focused when people are hungry,” said Dr Vincent.

“We hear of children going to school without having had breakfast, many people are on calorie restriction diets, and lots of people fast for religious reasons. Hunger is so common that it is important to understand the non-obvious ways in which our preferences and decisions may be affected by it.”

Research contact: b.t.vincent@dundee.ac.uk

If memory serves: Women have better ‘episodic recall’ than men

September 16, 2019

If a husband and his wife are leaving home to do some errands, chances are that he will not remember where he put the keys to the car, but she will not remember where the car is parked.

When it comes to specific events, a new study conducted by the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden backs the claim that women have better recall, according to a report by Study Finds.

But researchers say memories come in many forms, and men do have some advantages. While a female may have the edge when it comes to remembering a conversation or where she put her eyeglasses, a male is more likely to remember the directions to the mall. That’s because women fare better when it comes to episodic memory.

Episodic memory is the ability to remember events, such as what we did last week or whether we took our medication this morning. One of the most sensitive memory systems, it is impacted by lack of sleep, depression, and aging.

The researchers looked at numerous episodic memory studies conducted over three decades to uncover the truth behind the anecdotal reports of men being unable to remember as well as women such matters as whom they met, who said what, or where they last saw a missing object.

“The results show that there is a slight female advantage in episodic memory, and that advantage varies depending on which materials are to be remembered,” says lead study author Martin Asperholm, a doctoral student at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the university, in a statement.

The research group’s meta-analysis included 617 studies that were conducted between 1973 and 2013, and included more than 1.2 million participants.

Study authors explain that their results indicate women do have the edge when verbal processes are involved in memory making. This includes memories involving words, texts, objects, locations of objects and movies. Women are also better at remembering faces and recalling sensory memories, such as smells.

Men, on the other hand, are keen at remembering information involving spatial processing, such as how to find their way back from one location to another and also recollecting abstract images.

So if she tells you, “I told you so,” believe her. And if he tells you, “This is the right way,” follow him.

Findings are published in the journal, Psychological Bulletin.

Research contact: @StudyFindsorg

Familiar face: Trump’s ex-wife Marla Maples appears in HBO televangelist comedy

September 13, 2019

She’s Tiffany Trump’s mom and the Donald’s ex-wife—and Marla Maples finally has returned to the spotlight in a new television role, her first since she divorced the now-president in 1999.

The 55-year-old actress was down in South Carolina earlier this year, according to a report by CNN, where she shot her part in the HBO comedy series, The Righteous Gemstones.”

The show, starring Danny McBride and John Goodman, centers around a world-famous televangelist family with a long tradition of deviance, greed, and charitable work — all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Maples declined to comment through a spokesperson, but she posted an on-set photo, writing that she “couldn’t be happier.” The Georgia-born Maples said the last time she worked in the Carolinas, she was 18 years old, playing a small role in Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive.

Months before the 2016 election, Maples hit primetime as a contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. However, she has taken a low profile since Trump moved into the White House; as has Tiffany, who currently is studying law at Georgetown University.

Maples appeared in roles on several television programs while she was married to Trump, including Spin City and The Nanny.

Research contact: @CNN

You have what? 1 in 6 doctors admits to making diagnostic errors on a daily basis

September 12, 2019

Should we trust our doctors? Nearly 17% of medical professionals estimated in a Medscape poll that they make diagnostic errors each day, WebMD reported on September 11.

That number varied by specialty. Pediatricians were least likely to say they made errors in their diagnoses every day (11%), and emergency medicine specialists were most likely (26%); while family medicine practitioners (18%), physicians in general practice (22%), and internal medicine professionals (15%) came out somewhere in the middle.

Nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants answered similarly: In all three categories, 17% said they estimated they made diagnostic errors daily.

Respondents included 633 doctors and 118 nurse practitioners, for a total of 751. The poll was conducted after Medscape reported results from a study conducted by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Journal of General Internal Medicine that suggested doctors tend to underestimate how often they make diagnostic errors.

Researchers at the Baltimore-based school conducted a survey of doctors at nine Connecticut internal medicine training programs to assess thoughts about diagnostic uncertainty and error. Most believed diagnostic errors to be uncommon (once a month or less), although fully half of respondents said they felt diagnostic uncertainty every day. Previously published figures estimate that diagnostic errors happen in 10% to 15% of all patient encounters.

A registered nurse wrote in the comments on the Medscape poll that it’s important to make a distinction between incorrect diagnoses and uncertainty. “The latter is part of the basis for a referral to a specialist,” he noted.

Poll results showed that nurse practitioners and physician assistants reported slightly higher rates of daily diagnostic uncertainty than did doctors. Uncertainty rates were similar for male and female doctors.

Doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants agreed on the top three reasons diagnostic errors happen:

  • One was “lack of feedback on diagnostic accuracy” (38% of doctors and 44% of nurse practitioners/physician assistants listed that as a top reason);
  • Another was time constraints, listed by 37% of doctors and 47% of nurse practitioners and physician assistants;
  • Rounding out the top three was “a culture that discourages disclosure or errors” (according to 27% of doctors; 33% of nurse practitioners/physician assistants).

Finally, an internist said one cause of uncertainty in diagnosis was not listed as an option in the poll —”the inherent nature of biological systems.” Not all symptoms or conditions can be diagnosed, at least in a timely manner, he said.

“We are not ‘omnipotent,’ ” he wrote. “We do not understand in totality human physiology/pathology. Just because a diagnostic ‘label’ cannot be applied to a patient within a certain time, or that a reasonable diagnosis was applied that turns out to be ‘incorrect,’ does not mean an ‘error’ occurred.”

Research contact: @WebMD

‘Choline’ is not a country music ballad. It’s a dietary supplement you need for brain health

September 11, 2019

The momentum behind a move to plant-based and vegan diets for the good of the planet is commendable, but there is a risk that people who do not eat meat will suffer from the low intake of an essential nutrient, UK-based Dr. Emma Derbyshire of Nutritional Insight warns in an article on Science Daily.

Choline, a required nutrient that is found predominantly in animal foods—including beef, eggs, dairy products, fish, and chicken; and, in much lower levels, in nuts, beans, and cruciferous vegetables— is critical to brain health.

In recognition of the dietary importance of choline, in 1998, the U.S. Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences recommended minimum daily intakes. These range from 425 mg/day for women to 550 mg/day for men, and 450 mg/day and 550 mg/day for pregnant and breastfeeding women, respectively, because of the critical role the nutrient has in fetal development.

In 2016, the European Food Safety Authority published similar daily requirements.

Yet national dietary surveys in North America, Australia, and Europe show that habitual choline intake, on average, falls short of these recommendations, Science Daily reports.

“This is….concerning given that current trends appear to be towards meat reduction and plant-based diets,” Dr Derbyshire told the news outlet.

And she is at a loss to understand why choline does not feature in UK dietary guidance or national population monitoring data.

“Given the important physiological roles of choline and authorization of certain health claims, it is questionable why choline has been overlooked for so long in the UK,” she writes. “Choline is presently excluded from UK food composition databases, major dietary surveys, and dietary guidelines,” she adds.

It may be time for the UK government’s independent Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition to reverse this, she suggests, particularly given the mounting evidence on the importance of choline to human health and growing concerns about the sustainability of the planet’s food production.

“More needs to be done to educate healthcare professionals and consumers about the importance of a choline-rich diet, and how to achieve this,” she writes.

“If choline is not obtained in the levels needed from dietary sources per se, then supplementation strategies will be required, especially in relation to key stages of the life cycle, such as pregnancy, when choline intakes are critical to infant development,” she concludes.

Research contact: @ScienceDaily