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Sunday, June 17, 2007Science Of Sleep
Lindsay Wagner, your Sleep Number is up.
It may not matter how hard or soft our mattresses are, despite what Select Comfort spokeswoman Wagner says. Nor how light or dark our bedrooms, nor how early or late we retire for the night.
A study completed this spring by Washington State University Spokane suggests that our sleep patterns are embedded in our bodies - perhaps in our very genes. It's a conclusion that challenges previous assumptions in sleep research, according to WSU graduate student Adrienne Tucker.
"Always, since the beginning of sleep research, it's been assumed that individual differences in sleep were due to circumstance," said Tucker, the lead author of a report on the study published in the June issue of "Journal of Sleep Research." Such circumstances could include consistently going to bed late and getting up early, or trying to sleep in noisy conditions, or choosing a certain type of bed.
Tucker said the WSU study shows that habits and choices play a role in sleep patterns, but that differences are biologically driven.
And if biology is destiny, then here's a thought to cause unrest.
"For the average person, that means ? there's only a limited amount of control you will have over changing your sleep," Tucker said.
So much for those soothing cups of chamomile tea.
But before you aim a BB gun at fence-hopping sheep, stop and consider: Your pillow problems may not be as severe as you think.
There is no normal
The study also indicates that so-called normal sleep covers a wide terrain.
"We often look to compare ourselves to each other, and may come to the conclusion something is wrong with our sleep," said Hans Van Dongen, associate research professor and assistant director of the Sleep and Performance Research Center at WSU Spokane.
Van Dongen said that some people are too quick to label themselves as insomniacs because they fear they don't meet some standard of sleep that everyone else has attained.
But Van Dongen said the WSU study demonstrated that healthy adults show great variation in sleep patterns.
"Not everybody sleeps equally," Van Dongen said.
Subjects were 11 women and 10 men ages 22 to 40. All candidates were screened to ensure they were physically and psychologically healthy.
The study recorded information about sleepers' brain waves, eye movements and muscle tone for 12 consecutive days in a laboratory setting. During that time, participants spent 12 hours in bed for eight nights, interspersed with three 36-hour periods of sleep deprivation.
Researchers logged data about 18 types of sleep parameters, including how long people slept, how long it took them to fall asleep and the amounts of time spent in the various stages of sleep. For most categories, researchers found that biology accounted for about half of the differences observed. But in the deeper, most restorative stages of sleep, biology appeared to influence sleep behaviors almost entirely.
Genes don't tell the story
Tucker said researchers knew variations were biologically driven because conditions were controlled.
"Caffeine, alcohol, social interactions, temperature, lab food, light levels - all these things we would say were circumstances, we kept them constant, and the variability was still there," Tucker said.
Researchers suspect the biological influences are genetic. That doesn't necessarily mean you can thank your mother for the ability to fall asleep quickly, or blame your grandfather for waking up feeling cranky instead of refreshed.
That's because biological factors could also be linked to fetal development, or interactions between genes and the environment, Tucker and Van Dongen said.
More may be known before long about the link between sleep and genes. Tucker said genetics is a fast-growing field in sleep research, and blood samples from the WSU participants were collected for further study.
In addition, Van Dongen said understanding the role of biological influences in sleep may bolster evidence of links between sleep and health.
Past studies have suggested that people may be at greater risk for cardiovascular or other health problems based on the amount of hours they sleep, although Van Dongen said these are indicators, not guarantees.
"Maybe later on ? this can make a contribution to what future health outcomes look like," he said.
Did you know?
- Americans today average 6.9 hours of sleep on weeknights and 7.5 hours per night on weekends, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Before the invention of the light bulb, people slept an average of 10 hours a night, the foundation claims.
How much does circumcision alter what a man ultimately feels? Scientific studies aiming to answer this question have been inconclusive.
Now researchers prodding dozens of male penises with a fine-tipped tool have found that the five areas most receptive to fine-touch are routinely removed by the surgery.
The finding, announced today, was detailed in the April issue of the British Journal of Urology (BJU) International.
Circumcision surgery involves the removal of the skin that covers the tip of the penis, called the foreskin. Infant male circumcision is the most common medical procedure in the United States, with an estimated 60 percent of male newborns undergoing the surgery.
Morris Sorrells of National Organization of Circumcision Information Resources Center and colleagues created a “penile sensitivity map” by measuring the sensitivity of 19 locations on the penises of 159 male volunteers. Of the participants, 91 were circumcised as infants and none had histories of penile or sexual dysfunction.
For circumcised penises, the most sensitive region was the circumcision scar on the underside of the penis, the researchers found. For uncircumcised penises, the areas most receptive to pressure were five regions normally removed during circumcision—all of which were more sensitive than the most sensitive part of the circumcised penis.
Circumcision is a procedure practiced in several countries for medical as well as cultural reasons. Most scientists agree that the surgery confers some protection against infection and the risk of contracting sexual diseases. Recent studies have also shown that circumcision can lower the risks of HIV infection by as much as 60 percent in sex between males and females.
But Robert Van Howe, a study team member at Michigan State University, thinks such claims are somewhat overblown. “The [health benefits] that have been consistently shown are very small, and there are less aggressive, less invasive, less expensive ways of dealing with the problems [circumcision] is supposed to address,” Van Howe told LiveScience.
Other practices, such as choosing sexual partners wisely and using condoms consistently, are far more effective in protecting against diseases, he added.
Circumcision is opposed by some groups on the grounds that it is painful and not a life-saving procedure, and that it also makes sex less pleasurable by exposing and numbing the tip of the penis, called the glans. Some have gone so far as recommending foreskin restoration.
Some previous studies found that circumcision led to little, if any, decrease in penile sensitivity, but Sorrells and his colleagues say such findings are suspect because many are based on self-reports from men who were circumcised to correct medical problems.
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There is an unseen war going on in America. It's part of the war on drugs, part of the war on terror, and part of consumer safety. As an emergent side effect of these, and some additional foolishness, America is waging war on science. While the government targets terrorists, drug makers and illegal fireworks, it's the arm chair chemists and curious youngsters that get caught in the crossfire. The government has enabled legislation that makes DIY chemistry impossible without violating laws. And in so doing, we are sowing salt into the soil of our own future. Years ago, chemistry sets geared toward children and model rockets were simply part of growing up as a youngster in middle America. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing over the metal cabinet of my Chemcraft chemistry set, wearing over sized adult safety goggles and scrawling notes on my latest bubbling concoction, or launching an Estes rocket in the park.
But many of the youth of today will never get that chance. The Consumer Product Saftey Division has made it a point to outlaw chemicals that can be used to make illegal fireworks. Chemicals like sulfur and potassium perchlorate, that would have been standard issue in any lab experiment of yesteryear are now contraband. The CPSD, best known for its issuing of recalls for consumer goods, claims that this ban is in effect to reduce injuries from home made fireworks. The fact of the matter is that 98% of all firework related injuries are caused by off the shelf fireworks. All of this CPSD nonsense is to cut down on the other 2%.
The modern CPSD does more than just alert consumers to dangerous toasters. They have the power to mobilize law enforcement, and sponsor raids on citizens and businesses. One such raid was directed at the amazing online store United Nuclear. United Nuclear sells super powerful magnets, aerogel, lasers, chemicals, lab ware, and all sorts of other geeky goodness. The founders of United Nuclear were held at gun point, handcuffed, and had all of their computers and records confiscated. Why? Because some of the chemicals they sell could be used to make fireworks. United Nuclear is now involved in a long legal battle to avoid fines and prison sentences thanks to the CPSD.
And the fun doesn't stop there. In an attempt to curb the production of crystal meth, more than 30 states have now outlawed or require registration for common lab equipment. In Texas, you need to register the purchase of Erlenmeyer flasks or three-necked beakers. The same state where I do not have to register a handgun, forces me to register a glass beaker. In Portland, Oregon, even pH strips are suspect. Modern off the shelf "chemistry" sets are sold without any of the questionable chemicals or equipment. For example, when a current company tried re releasing a kit based on the one marketed by Mr. Wizard himself back in the 1950s, they found that they could only include five of the original chemicals in the set. The rest of the items were replaced with inane things like super balls and balloons. Even a non neutered modern chemistry set like the C3000 from Thames and Kosmos is forced to ship without many key chemicals, suggesting to their customers that they acquire the missing ingredients elsewhere.
Forget about model rocketry. Since the beginnings of the war on terror, the government has ridiculously claimed that model rockets could be used to shoot down commercial aircraft. Now all rocket engines above a certain size and thrust limit require fingerprinting, background checks and waving of your search and seizure rights! Said engines often require a Low Explosive Usage Permit to launch or take them across state lines. And all of these paranoid laws and regulations on chemistry, rocketry, and lab ware are not being done in ignorance. The powers that be are aware of the effect legislation is having on budding scientists and hobby enthusiasts. Pentagon and Justice Department consultant, professor James Tour said, “The fact that there are amateurs and retired professors out there who need access to these chemicals is a valid problem, but there aren’t many of those guys weighed against the possible dangers.” So because we still fear the terrorist boogieman, our kids are not allowed the same access to science that we had growing up. And hobbyists are forced to collect their chemicals and do their work in secret.
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We wanted to know so we choose to take a look at traffic data from the top 5 sites in their respective categories to determine the victor. We realize that this does not truly answer the question because it can be argued that there are exponentially more sex sites than either video or torrent sites, but it still gives us an idea who is winning at the top end of the spectrum. To insure a fair fight we decided to remove YouTube from the fray because of the obvious traffic advantage they get from being a part of Google Inc. The remaining sites were ranked by a combination of Inbound Links, Compete (US visitors), Quantcast (US visitors), and Alexa data to determine who was truly king of the hill. If you account for the obvious Compete and Quantcast skew for adult sites the overall data seems to point to video sites as the champ, but the results are close. What do you think? Honestly, which sites do you visit the most?
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