Is this the cure for sleepless nights? Scientists believe that earzapper can help eradicate insomnia
Ear clips that stimulate a nerve in the ears can help treat insomnia. New research suggests that using the clips for just 30 minutes before going to bed can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness.
Scientists believe it works by stimulating the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
One in three people in the UK suffers from insomnia at some point (insomnia is defined as the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep at night).
New research suggests using the clips for just 30 minutes before going to bed can improve sleep quality and reduce daytime sleepiness [File photo]
The most common causes include stress or anxiety and shift work (which can disrupt natural sleep patterns). Alcohol and caffeine consumption are also factors: these can disrupt sleep because they act diuretically, making us want to urinate at night, relax the muscles and cause heavy snoring.
An estimated one in ten people with insomnia eventually takes sleeping tablets, either prescribed or available without a prescription from a pharmacist.
Stronger medications prescribed by general practitioners include so-called ‘Z’ drugs (the three main ones are zopiclone, zolpidem, and zaleplon), which work by slowing brain activity so that it is easier to fall asleep.
However, long-term use of the drugs has been associated with worrisome side effects, including drowsiness (which increases the risk of falls and road accidents), memory loss and aggression.
Patients can also develop withdrawal problems if they come off.
Now, scientists at Peking University in Beijing, China believe the ear clips can provide a drug-free way to improve sleep.
The clips are connected by wire to a small power supply unit the size of a mobile phone.
When turned on, an electrical current passes through the clips and into the ears to stimulate the vagus nerve. This is an important nerve that runs through the chest and neck to the brain and is involved in regulating a wide variety of functions, including our sleep and wakefulness.
The clips are attached to the pinna – the shell-like entrance of the ear that leads to the ear canal, where a branch of the vagus nerve can be found just under the skin.
In one trial, the scientists tested the clips on 63 volunteers with insomnia. Half were told to attach the clips to the auricle, the rest to the outer edge of the ear where the vagus nerve does not pass close to the skin.
Each person used the device before going to sleep for a month and kept diaries of their sleep patterns.
The results, in the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in August, showed that those who received vagus nerve stimulation at the end of the trial had fewer problems falling asleep and were less sleepy during the day.
In just four weeks, their mean score dropped by about two points on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale, which measures sleepiness.
Independent sleep expert, Dr. Neil Stanley, says, “This study is interesting, but the number of patients involved was small. We need larger studies of better quality to show positive results before this can be used as a treatment. ‘
Insomnia should be a recognized risk factor for type 2 diabetes, new research suggests. Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden examined 1,360 studies on risk factors for type 2 diabetes and concluded that people with insomnia were 17 percent more likely to develop the condition than those without.
Researchers suggest it may have something to do with the effect poor sleep has on lifestyle choices. ‘Short sleep of poor quality [are] associated with less healthy eating and irregular eating patterns, ‘they reported.
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Cancer medicine to stop allergic reactions
A new pill can stop life-threatening anaphylactic reactions in people with drug or food allergies.
Research from Northwestern University in the USA has shown that drugs that block the enzyme Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) – used to treat certain types of blood cancers – also block immune cells released during severe allergic reactions.
Further studies are needed, but if successful, it would be the first known treatment to prevent anaphylaxis, the Journal of Clinical Investigation reports. “This pill can literally be life-changing,” says researcher Bruce Bochner, professor of medicine.
Gut bacteria related to multiple sclerosis
Certain types of gut bacteria can worsen the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS), suggests a study at the RIKEN Center for Integrative Medical Sciences in Japan.
MS occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack nerve coatings. This interrupts the messages between the nerves and muscles, leading to symptoms such as numbness and difficulty walking.
A study in mice revealed that two specific gut bacteria make the immune cells that attack these nerve coatings more active.
New blood thinners for surgery patients
Scientists have discovered blood thinners that prevent a major problem with current drugs: bleeding after injury or surgery because the blood does not clot sufficiently.
Blood thinners or ‘anticoagulants’ are often prescribed for patients with thrombosis (a blood clot that prevents normal blood circulation) or a stroke.
These drugs work by blocking enzymes that help stop bleeding, but can leave patients vulnerable after injury.
According to the journal Nature Communications, scientists in Switzerland and in the US have found the first synthetic inhibitor of another enzyme (called FXII) without these complications.
How exercise can boost kids’ memory skills
According to a study from Kobe University in Japan, children can become physically active to improve their learning ability.
Previous research has shown that exercise improves activity in areas of the brain that are crucial for learning. In the latest study, scientists analyzed data from three studies that looked at the effects of physical activities, such as ball games, on cognition, including the child’s ability to focus, remember facts, and switch between tasks.
The study showed that the most improvement was seen in children with the lowest skills.
Eating soup regularly lowers the risk of obesity by 15 percent, according to a study of more than 40,000 people reported in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
Soup is generally low in calories, but significant in volume, and this is thought to increase fullness, reducing extra food intake.
A weak handle can indicate type 2 diabetes
The stronger your grip, the lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a study from the University of Bristol and the University of Eastern Finland.
The research, published in Annals of Medicine, looked at nearly 800 people without a history of diabetes for 20 years.
The participants had to press hard with their dominant hand into a dynamometer (an instrument that measures the handle) for five seconds.
The results showed that for each strength unit, the risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by 50 percent.
The researchers say handgrip may be a good way to determine who is at risk for the condition.
Veg patch medicine
Health wonders that lie in your pantry. This week: spinach to combat dementia
In one study, people who ate more leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, saw a significant decrease in the rate of cognitive decline, scientists at Rush University in Chicago found.
They followed the nutrition and cognitive skills of nearly 1,000 older adults for an average of five years.
The 2017 study published in Neurology found that people who ate one to two 80g servings per day had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger than those who didn’t eat one.
Scientists believe that the vitamin K in vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale is involved in the maintenance of the myelin sheath that helps nerve cells communicate with each other.
Research has shown that patients with recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s had a lower intake of vitamin K.
Did you know?
According to the British Journal of Psychiatry, the naturally occurring lithium in drinking water could help stabilize mood and reduce suicides. Lithium, which is used in the treatment of bipolar disorder, was found to be beneficial after a review of 15 studies comparing regional suicide rates with lithium concentrations in water.
Missing in action
We look at neglected parts of the body – and how to make them stronger. This week: your calves
“Nobody ever comes to me and asks for strong, defined calves – but they should,” said Kira Mahal, a personal trainer who runs MotivatePT in London.
The calf muscles are the powerhouse for lifting your heel off the ground when you walk and run, and ankles and feet need them for stability. Spending time strengthening your calves will help prevent lower leg injuries. ‘
While waiting for the kettle to boil, do this exercise: press the balls of your feet into the floor and stand on your toes. Lower and repeat three sets of 15 reps.
Increase the intensity by doing them leg by leg or with your toes on a step so that your heel drops lower.