Children's sleep quality linked to mothers' insomnia

August 31, 2017

Science Daily/University of Warwick

Children sleep more poorly if their mothers suffer from insomnia symptoms – potentially affecting their mental wellbeing and development - according to new research. Nearly 200 school kids and their parents were studied, results indicating that children whose mothers have insomnia symptoms fall asleep later, get less sleep and spend less time in deep sleep. There appeared to be no link between fathers’ insomnia symptoms and children’s sleep.


Led by Dr Sakari Lemola from Warwick's Department of Psychology and Natalie Urfer-Maurer from the University of Basel, the study reported in Sleep Medicine shows that children of mothers with insomnia symptoms fall asleep later, get less sleep, and spend less time in deep sleep.


Analysing data from nearly 200 healthy 7-12 year old children and their parents, the researchers studied the relationship between the parents' insomnia symptoms and their children's sleep quality.


Sleep was assessed in the children during one night with in-home electroencephalography (EEG) -- a method used to record electrical activity in the brain and makes it possible to identify different sleep stages -- whilst parents reported their own insomnia symptoms and their children's sleep problems.


The researchers found that children whose mothers have insomnia symptoms fall asleep later, get less sleep, and spend less time in deep sleep, as measured by EEG.


However, there was no association between the fathers' sleep problems and children's sleep as measured by EEG.


The study suggests that the reason why children's sleep is more closely related to mothers' sleep than to fathers' sleep is that, on average, mothers still spend more time with their children than fathers -- and therefore, a stronger mutual influence is likely.


When parents reported their children's sleep, both mothers and fathers with sleep problems more often reported that their children had difficulties getting into bed and did not sleep enough.


Sleep plays an essential role for adults' and children's well-being. Short sleep and poor sleep quality can affect mental health, learning, memory, and school achievement in children. In adulthood around 30% of people suffer from disturbed sleep. The most common sleep disorder in adulthood is insomnia, which is defined by symptoms such as difficulty falling or staying asleep at night.


"These findings are important because sleep in childhood is essential for wellbeing and development," commented Dr Sakari Lemola. "The findings show that children's sleep has to be considered in the family context. In particular, the mother's sleep appears to be important for how well school-aged children sleep."


Several mechanisms could account for the relationship between parents' and children's sleep. First, children may learn sleep habits from their parents. Second, poor family functioning could affect both parents' and children's sleep. For instance, family fights in the evening before bedtime may prevent the whole family from a good night's sleep.


Third, it is possible that parents suffering from poor sleep show "selective attention" for their own as well as their children's sleep problems, leading to increased monitoring of sleep. It is possible that increased monitoring and attempts to control sleep may negatively affect sleep quality. Finally, children may also share genes with their parents that predispose them to poor sleep.


The research, 'The association of mothers' and fathers' insomnia symptoms with school-aged children's sleep assessed by parent report and in-home sleep-electroencephalography', is published in Sleep Medicine.


Early weight gain in pregnancy correlates with childhood obesity, first study of its size shows

August 28, 2017

Science Daily/Obesity Society

Weight gain in early pregnancy has the greatest impact on infant size at birth, according to a new study. The study is the largest ever analysis of the effect that weight gain in early pregnancy has on infant size.


The study examined 16,218 pregnant mothers throughout the first, second and third trimesters in Tianjin, China to determine the risk of infants' size at birth. Results found weight gain early in pregnancy, before 24 weeks -- regardless of the weight gain later -- had the greatest impact on infant size. Infants born to women with weight gain that exceeds the 2009 Institute of Medicine guidelines for weight gain during pregnancy, prior to 24 weeks, were 2.5 times more likely to be born large.


Maternal obesity and weight gain in pregnancy have been strongly linked to the development of overweight and obesity in children, although few studies have examined in-depth gestational weight gain with infant birth weight and childhood obesity. "Obstetrician gynecologists need to begin to educate patients who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant on the implications of weight gain in pregnancy on infant outcomes and the development of childhood obesity," said Leanne M. Redman, PhD, FTOS, who led the study and serves as Associate Professor & Director of the Reproductive Endocrinology & Women's Health Lab at LSU' Pennington Biomedical Research Center.


Overall, women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant should understand the impact that weight gain has on both short and long-term health risks for their child. Since this period of early pregnancy could have the strongest influence on the development of increased adiposity in the child, it is the opportune time to initiate lifestyle interventions in pregnant women. "International clinicians, clinical researchers and pediatricians should care about this research as findings suggest attention to healthy weight gain early in gestation may be warranted," said TOS spokesperson Suzanne Phelan, PhD, Professor of Kinesiology, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.


In an accompanying editorial published in Obesity, Cheryce L. Harrison, PhD discusses gestational weight gain and its association with infant birth weight, agreeing with the recent Obesity study. "These results validate previous literature in smaller cohorts while notably advancing this field of research in one of the largest, most well-defined mother-infant cohorts," said Dr. Harrison.


Early-life pain may lead to obesity risk, especially in females

July 6, 2017

Science Daily/Georgia State University

Inflammatory pain at birth changes how the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory and eating behavior, works later in life, and this pain also causes adult rats to eat more frequently and in larger amounts, according to a study.


The study found early-life inflammatory pain increases sucrose intake in adult male and female rats, and it decreases the expression of a protein that is critical for memory, activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (Arc), in hippocampal neurons following the consumption of a sweetened solution. In addition, the effects of neonatal pain are more pronounced in female rats and can be reduced in all rats by administering morphine at the time early-life pain is experienced.


The findings demonstrate for the first time that one brief episode of inflammatory pain on the day of birth has a long-lasting, sex-dependent effect on the intake of food into adulthood. The results are published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.


Previous studies have found a connection between memory and overeating. In humans, disrupting the encoding of the memory of a meal, such as by watching television or playing computer games, increases the amount of food consumed at the next meal. On the contrary, recalling and enhancing the memory of a meal decreases the amount of food ingested at a future meal.


In this study, the researchers induced neonatal inflammatory pain by injecting an inflammatory agent into a rat pup's paw on the day of birth. Some of the rats received morphine at the time of the inflammatory pain. Then, rats were trained to consume a sucrose solution at a specific time and location daily, and the researchers measured the rats' sucrose intake and sucrose-associated Arc expression in the dorsal hippocampus into adulthood. Sucrose solution was used as the meal because it's pleasant and rewarding to rats, can't be hoarded and overconsumption of sweetened beverages contributes to the development of obesity.


The study found male and female rats that experienced pain on the day of birth ate more of the sucrose solution at each meal than rats that didn't experience pain. However, there were differences between the sexes. Female rats that experienced pain consumed more during each meal and also returned to the sucrose feeding tube sooner after each meal. In addition, female rats exposed to pain at birth showed fewer cells expressing the Arc protein when they consumed sucrose.


The researchers suggest that female rats are more vulnerable to pain at birth than males, and this could be related to hormone changes during the period around birth. Male rats experience a surge of testosterone during the early postnatal period, which could protect them from some of the adverse effects of neonatal pain. Female rats don't experience a similar hormone change.


Rats that received morphine after experiencing early-life pain didn't show the same eating increases as pain-inflicted rats that didn't receive morphine. This suggests changes in eating behavior resulted from the experience of pain.


"Our research may have implications for humans because newborn rats are comparable to third-trimester human infants in terms of brain development and can be used as a model for premature human infants born into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU)," said Dr. Marise Parent, professor of neuroscience and psychology and associate director of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. "Premature infants in the NICU can undergo numerous painful and invasive procedures each day, more than half without pain relievers. Our study suggests that inflammatory pain experienced by infants in the NICU may contribute to the increased food consumption and obesity observed in this population, and that when possible, preventing pain in NICU infants could reduce the increased risk for obesity in this vulnerable population."


Childhood stress fuels weight gain in women

July 7, 2015

Science Daily/Michigan State University

When it comes to weight gain for women, childhood stress appears to be a bigger culprit than stress during adulthood, finds an American national study. Interestingly, though, neither childhood nor adult stress was associated with weight gain for men.


Interestingly, though, neither childhood nor adult stress was associated with weight gain for men.


The federally funded study, which appears online in the journal Social Science & Medicine, is the first to examine such lifelong consequences of stress on weight change.


"These findings add to our understanding of how childhood stress is a more important driver of long-term weight gain than adult stress, and how such processes differ for men and women," said Hui Liu, MSU associate professor of sociology and an expert in statistics, population-based health and family science.


Liu and her longtime collaborator, Debra Umberson from the University of Texas, analyzed the data from the Americans' Changing Lives, a national survey in which participants were interviewed four times in a 15-year period. The study encompassed 3,617 people (2,259 women and 1,358 men).


Childhood stress was measured on a range of family-related stressors that occurred at age 16 or younger such as economic hardship, divorce, at least one parent with mental health problem and never knowing one's father. Adult stress included such factors as job loss, death of a significant other and parental and care-provider stress.


Liu said women who experienced higher levels of childhood stress gained weight more rapidly than women who experienced less childhood stress. Change in body mass is a process that unfolds throughout life, she noted, and childhood may be a critical period for establishing patterns that have a long-term impact on women's weight over time.


As far as stress not significantly affecting men's weight, Liu said men and women respond to stress differently.


It may be that women eat more to cope with stress, whereas men are more likely to engage in less weight-related strategies such as withdrawing or drinking alcohol, she said. Gender differences in depression may also help explain the difference. Depression is associated with emotion-driven eating and weight gain, and females are more likely than males to be depressed after adolescence.


The findings highlight the need for treatment and policies designed to reduce stress in childhood.


"Given the importance of body mass on health and disability," Liu said, "it's important that we consider the sex-specific social contexts of early childhood in order to design effective clinical programs that prevent or treat obesity later in life."


Health information causing new moms anxiety

July 2, 2015

Science Daily/Monash University

Pregnancy and motherhood are both wonderful and worrisome times -- could public health campaigns and social stereotypes be contributing to anxiety for mothers? Researchers suggest that perinatal anxiety disorders are common but much less attention has been paid to anxiety than depression.


In a paper recently published in Women's Studies International Forum, Dr Heather Rowe and Professor Jane Fisher from the Jean Hailes Research Unit within the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine have examined perinatal anxiety and its causes.


Dr Rowe said that perinatal anxiety disorders are common but much less attention has been paid to anxiety than depression.


"While a degree of anxiety is inevitable at this time in a woman's life, the complexity of modern pregnancy and the postpartum period appears to have a downside, delivering over-simplified public health advice as well as professional and social scrutiny," Dr Rowe said.


The research identified several themes underpinning perinatal anxiety: managing women's 'maternal image'; single-message health promotion campaigns; evidence based decision making; 'maternal instinct'; and the concept of risk. The researchers concluded that health and social messages can be unrealistic and distressing, causing confusion and stigma that can undermine a mother's confidence.


"Public health campaigns with a strict single message such as 'breast is best' can make women feel pressured, and can lead them to feel guilty and ashamed if they make an informed choice not to breastfeed. Similarly the 'Safe Sleep Space' campaign to prevent SIDS can cause parents to over-estimate the likelihood of SIDS and lead them to be excessively watchful and worried," Dr Rowe said.


"We need evidence based, public health campaigns and non-judgemental advice to ensure that women feel supported and know that society values the work of mothering."


The researchers recommend that health professionals address the inaccurate stereotype that mothering is instinctive, which can paint a highly idealised image of how motherhood 'should' be and replace this with the message that caretaking for an infant is a set of learned skills that will develop over time.


"By providing realistic and evidence based information to assist decision making, health professionals can help challenge the unhelpful messages that bombard women in pregnancy and motherhood, and benefit both mother and child," Dr Rowe said.



PTSD, traumatic experiences may raise heart attack, stroke risk in women

June 29, 2015

Science Daily/American Heart Association

Women with severe PTSD or traumatic events may have a 60 percent higher lifetime risk of cardiovascular disease. The study is the first to examine trauma exposure, PTSD, and onset of cardiovascular disease exclusively in women. Researchers suggest physicians ask women about traumatic events and PTSD symptoms and then monitor them for cardiovascular issues.


In the first major study of PTSD and onset of cardiovascular disease (both heart attacks and strokes) exclusively in women, researchers examined about 50,000 participants in the Nurses' Health Study II over 20 years.


PTSD occurs in some people after traumatic events (such as a natural disaster, unwanted sexual contact or physical assault). Patients may experience flashbacks of the trauma, insomnia, fatigue, trouble remembering or concentrating, and emotional numbing. Other symptoms include nightmares, irritability or being startled easily. PTSD is twice as common in women as in men.


In the study:


Women with four or more PTSD symptoms had 60 percent higher rates of cardiovascular disease compared to women who weren't exposed to traumatic events.


Women with no PTSD symptoms but who reported traumatic events had 45 percent higher rates of cardiovascular disease. Almost half of the association between elevated PTSD symptoms and cardiovascular disease was accounted for by unhealthy behaviors like smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and medical factors such as high blood pressure. "PTSD is generally considered a psychological problem, but the take-home message from our findings is that it also has a profound impact on physical health, especially cardiovascular risk," said Jennifer Sumner, Ph.D., lead author and an Epidemiology Merit Fellow at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City and a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. "This is not exclusively a mental problem -- it's a potentially deadly problem of the body as well."


Most studies of cardiovascular disease risk in PTSD patients have been conducted in men who have served in the military or among disaster survivors.


The current study, conducted by a team of researchers at Columbia and Harvard-Chan, is unique in that it examined women from the community who were exposed to a variety of traumatic events.


Our results provide further evidence that PTSD increases the risk of chronic disease," said. Karestan C. Koenen, the study's senior author and Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. "The medical system needs to stop treating the mind and the body as if they are separate. Patients need access to integrated mental and physical healthcare."


Researchers used a questionnaire to evaluate different types of traumatic experiences and PTSD symptoms. They also considered cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise, diabetes, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, and other contributors to cardiovascular health such as excessive alcohol use, and hormone replacement use.


PTSD emerged as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in a sample of women under the age of 65. Physicians should be aware of this link and screen for cardiovascular disease risk, as well as monitor related health conditions and behaviors, including encouraging changes in lifestyle factors that may increase this risk, Sumner said.


More than half of the people in the United States who suffer from PTSD don't get treatment, especially minorities. Women need to get mental healthcare to treat symptoms as well as be monitored for signs of cardiovascular problems, she said.



Manning up: Men may overcompensate when their masculinity is threatened

June 22, 2015

Science Daily/University of Washington

Societal norms dictating that men should be masculine are powerful. A new study finds that men who believe they fall short of those ideals might reassert their masculinity in small but significant ways.


From the old Charles Atlas ads showing a scrawny male having sand kicked in his face to sitcom clichés of henpecked husbands, men have long faced pressure to live up to ideals of masculinity.


Societal norms dictating that men should be masculine are powerful. And new University of Washington research finds that men who believe they fall short of those ideals might be prompted to reassert their masculinity in small but significant ways.


Published last week in Social Psychology, the research sought to understand how men respond when their masculinity is threatened, and looked at two specific strategies they might employ: playing up their manliness and rejecting feminine preferences.


The study found that male college students who were given falsely low results on a handgrip strength test exaggerated their height by three-quarters of an inch on average, reported having more romantic relationships, claimed to be more aggressive and athletic, and showed less interest in stereotypically feminine consumer products.


By contrast, men who received average score results, and whose masculinity was therefore not threatened, did not exaggerate those characteristics. The findings, researchers say, underscore the pressure men feel to live up to gender stereotypes and the ways in which they might reinstate a threatened masculinity.


'We know that being seen as masculine is very important for a lot of men,' said lead author Sapna Cheryan, a UW associate professor of psychology. 'We discovered that the things that men were using to assert their masculinity were the very things that are used as signals of identity.'


The research involved male students at Stanford University, where Cheryan received her doctorate in psychology. The students were told they were participating in research on how exertion impacts decision-making and were asked to squeeze a handheld device with each hand.


Researchers marked their scores on sheets that showed bogus bell curves representing male and female results, with the female curve clearly lower than the male one. Participants were scored either in the middle of the female or the male curve, suggesting that their grip was either weak or average.


They were then asked to fill out a questionnaire asking about their height, number of previous relationships, various personality traits and their interest in products that skewed male or female, along with 'distracter questions' about things like college major that were intended to allay potential suspicion about the study.


Cheryan said the consistent exaggeration about height among the group who thought they scored lower was particularly surprising.


'Height is something you think would be fixed, but how tall you say you are is malleable, at least for men,' she said.


Though the study focused exclusively on men, Cheryan noted that women also feel pressure to live up to gender ideals of femininity, such as being people-focused and nurturing. If women believe they are falling short of those expectations, Cheryan said, they might make choices with potentially negative consequences to demonstrate that they fit gender norms -- for example, avoiding classes in traditionally male fields such as science and technology.


Cheryan got the idea for the experiments from a men's fitness magazine she was reading while working out at the gym several years ago. The magazine had a feature that asked men on the street how much they could bench press and then brought them into a gym to put their statements to the test.


Most couldn't bench what they claimed they could, and that got Cheryan thinking: What would those men do, she wondered, now that their masculinity was threatened? Would they acknowledge that they weren't as strong as they perhaps thought? Try to bolster their manliness in response?


So Cheryan devised the handgrip experiment and a second one that required a male group of students to take a computer-based masculinity test with multiple-choice questions about consumer preferences and personal attributes.


In the second experiment, the participants were told the median score on the test was 72 out of 100, with 100 being 'completely masculine,' and were randomly given a score of 26 or 73. They were then asked about a range of products they could receive as compensation. As with the handgrip experiment, the participants who thought they scored lower were less interested in more feminine consumer products.


'This research shows that men are under very strong prescriptive norms to be a certain way, and they work hard to correct the image they project when their masculinity is under threat,' said co-author Benoît Monin, a professor of organizational behavior and psychology at Stanford University


The findings might seem amusing, but other studies have found that men compensate for a lack of masculinity in ways that aren't as innocuous. Men with baby faces, for example, were more likely to have assertive and hostile personalities and commit crimes than their more chiseled counterparts. Men who were told they scored low on masculinity tests were more likely to act aggressively, harass women and belittle other men.


Additionally, unemployed men were more likely to instigate violence against women, and men who were not their household's primary breadwinner were less willing to share in housework duties.


Identifying the various strategies men use when their masculinity is threatened, Cheryan said, can help with understanding male behavior in real-life situations.


'Men have a lot of power in our society, and what this study shows is that some decisions can be influenced by how they're feeling about their masculinity in the moment,' she said.



Hormone fluctuations disrupt sleep of perimenopausal women

June 16, 2015

Science Daily/Endocrine Society

Women in the early phases of menopause are more likely to have trouble sleeping during certain points in the menstrual cycle, according to a new study. During perimenopause -- the earliest stage of the menopausal transition -- women may have irregular menstrual cycles due to the body's fluctuating hormone levels. Symptoms such as sleep disturbances and hot flashes typically begin three to five years prior to the onset of menopause, when a woman is in her 40s.


During perimenopause -- the earliest stage of the menopausal transition -- women may have irregular menstrual cycles due to the body's fluctuating hormone levels. Symptoms such as sleep disturbances and hot flashes typically begin three to five years prior to the onset of menopause, when a woman is in her 40s, according to the Hormone Health Network.


The study examined how hormone fluctuations affected sleep during the luteal and follicular phases of the menstrual cycle. The luteal phase occurs prior to menstruation. The follicular phase refers to the two weeks after menstruation.


"We found that perimenopausal women experience more sleep disturbances prior to menstruation during the luteal phase than they did during the phase after menstruation," said one of the study's authors, Fiona C. Baker, PhD, of the Center for Health Sciences at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA, and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. "Measures of electrical brain activity found that the hormone progesterone influences sleep, even at this late reproductive stage in perimenopausal women."


The laboratory study examined sleep patterns in 20 perimenopausal women. Eleven of the participants experienced difficulty sleeping at least three times a week for at least a month, beginning with the onset of the menopausal transition.


The women each slept in a sleep laboratory twice -- once in the days leading up to the start of the menstrual period and the other time several days after the menstrual period. Researchers used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to assess the women's sleep and brain activity. Each participant also completed a survey regarding their sleep quality in the month prior to the laboratory testing and underwent a blood test to measure changes in hormone levels.


Researchers found women had a lower percentage of deep, or slow-wave, sleep in the days before the onset of their menstrual periods, when their progesterone levels were higher. The women also woke up more often and had more arousals -- brief interruptions in sleep lasting 3 to 15 seconds -- than they did in the days after their menstrual periods. In contrast, sleep tends to be stable throughout the menstrual cycle in younger women.


"Menstrual cycle variation in hormones is one piece in the overall picture of sleep quality in midlife women," Baker said. "This research can lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind sleep disturbances during the approach to menopause and can inform the development of better symptom management strategies."


Longevity hormone is lower in stressed, depressed women

June 16, 2015

Science Daily/University of California - San Francisco

Women under chronic stress have significantly lower levels of klotho, a hormone that regulates aging and enhances cognition, researchers have found in a study comparing mothers of children on the autism spectrum to low-stress controls.


The researchers found that the women in their study with clinically significant depressive symptoms had even lower levels of klotho in their blood than those who were under stress but not experiencing such symptoms.


The study, published June 16, in Translational Psychiatry, is the first to show a relationship between psychological influences and klotho, which performs a wide variety of functions in the body.


"Our findings suggest that klotho, which we now know is very important to health, could be a link between chronic stress and premature disease and death," said lead author, Aric Prather, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSF. "Since our study is observational, we cannot say that chronic stress directly caused lower klotho levels, but the new connection opens avenues of research that converge upon aging, mental health, and age-related diseases."


Scientists know from their work in mice and worms that, when klotho is disrupted, it promotes symptoms of aging, such as hardening of the arteries and the loss of muscle and bone, and when klotho is made more abundant, the animals live longer.


In previous work, senior author Dena Dubal, MD, PhD, showed that a genetic variant carried by one in five people is associated with having more klotho in the bloodstream, better cognitive function and a larger region of the prefrontal cortex. Carriers also tend to live longer and have lower rates of age-related disease. Dubal and colleagues found that increasing klotho in mice boosted their cognition and increased resilience to Alzheimer-related toxins, suggesting a therapeutic role for klotho in the brain.


The current study included 90 high-stress caregivers and 88 low-stress controls, most of whom were in their 30s and 40s and otherwise healthy. Klotho is known to decline with age, but in this cross-sectional study of relatively young women, this decline only happened among the high-stress women. The low-stress women did not show a significant reduction in klotho with aging.


"Chronic stress transmits risk for bad health outcomes in aging, including cardiovascular and Alzheimer's disease," said Dubal, an assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Neurology and the David A. Coulter Endowed Chair in Aging and Neurodegenerative Disease. "It will be important to figure out if higher levels of klotho can benefit mind and body health as we age. If so, therapeutics or lifestyle interventions that increase the longevity hormone could have a big impact on people's lives."


The researchers hypothesized that lower levels of klotho could contribute to stress and depression, since klotho acts on a variety of cellular, molecular and neural pathways that link to stress and depression.


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