Sleep Awareness Week Interview with Clifford Saper

Sleep Disorder

Image: Shutterstock

Who wouldn’t enjoy an extra hour or two of sleep before climbing out of bed and getting ready for work? A good night’s rest, or lack thereof, not only contributes to the following day’s productivity levels and emotions, but also its long-term effects are linked to cognitive and cardiovascular health. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one third of Americans get less than seven hours of sleep each night, and research points sleeping less than seven to eight hours each night to health risks such as stroke, obesity, cancer, and high blood pressure.

For National Sleep Awareness Week (April 23 – 29), we asked sleep expert Clifford B. Saper, M.D., Ph.D., to discuss the importance of sleep hygiene, sleep disorders, and current research at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, where he conducts his lab research and heads the neurology department. Saper is also a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member and past Dana Foundation grantee.

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When is the Brain “Mature”?

In the New York state budget just passed by Albany, legislators will raise the age to be tried as an adult from 16 to 18 years. New York was one of only two states left in the US that prosecuted youth as adults when they turned 16–now North Carolina stands on its own.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

In the US, law and policy have struggled to determine an accurate age to judge people mature and accountable, but new scientific findings regarding the brain, adolescence, and neurodevelopment counter the idea that we can pinpoint one age for everyone.

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How to Perceive Without Sight

How is it that we construct our reality? What is it we think we know, and what do we actually know? These are questions that led Columbia University neuroscientist Jacqueline Gottlieb to a career studying attention, decision-making, and curiosity. And at Saturday’s Brainwave event at the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC, we learned how these questions were addressed by someone who lost his sight at age 25.

At “How to Perceive Without Sight,” Gottlieb spoke with entrepreneur Isaac Lidsky, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease of the retina, at age 12. Prior to losing his vision, he already had achieved status as a child actor, lawyer, Supreme Court clerk, and a successful business owner. But when he lost his sight in early adulthood, he had to overcome depression and learn to shift his attention to his remaining senses to navigate the world around him.

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Isaac Lidsky, photo courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

“It was an eye-opening process,” quipped Lidsky, who came to realize that his other senses provided him with “phenomenal” information. Rather than passively observing the world through sight as before, he now had to make a conscious effort to pay more attention to that other information.

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Sleep Disorders as Prologue to Disease: From the Archives

What a (incremental) difference seven years make. In 2009, when we wrote about Dana Alliance member David Holtzman’s work, the headline was “Could Sleep Disorders Contribute to Alzheimer’s?” This month, Scientific American describes the work he and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are doing using the headline “Why Sleep Disorders May Precede Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.” We’ve gone from “maybe take a look” to “what’s the mechanism” on evidence for a link between sleep troubles and risk for neurodegenerative disorders has come.

Scientific American’s Simon Makin calls the Holtzman lab’s 2009 discovery the “best evidence for a causal relationship” From our story:

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Neuroethics and the BRAIN Initiative

brain-initiative-neuroethicsNeuroscience “is the science that is going to change the way people live, die, and think about themselves,” said Stanford Law professor Hank Greely during the third annual BRAIN Initiative investigators meeting, held in Bethesda, Md., last week. Research into the workings of the brain raises many ethical questions, some common to bioethics and others—such as questions of agency, consciousness, and identity—that are unique to the brain and central nervous system.

Neuroethics has been mentioned from the first public announcement of the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative in 2013; a BRAINI workgroup is devoted to the topic. It is one of nine BRAIN Initiative priority funding areas for the coming fiscal year (grant info). At this meeting, a regular session was devoted to the topic, featuring five of the members of the workgroup, and it also came up in other sessions.

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