The Science Behind the Perfect Nap

Katie Jones

Leonardo DaVinci, Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill are amongst some of the most influential people in human history. Despite being run off their feet painting beautiful masterpieces, developing the general theory of relativity, and leading Britain through World War Two; they all still found time for a well-earned nap. But, what is the key to a successful nap? Why is it that sometimes they make us feel groggy and other times they put a spring in our step?

Recent evidence suggests that there are three main types of sleeping. Planned napping, this is where a nap is used to prevent tiredness that might occur later in the day. For example, if you know you won’t get to bed till later than usual, you may want to have a nap earlier in the day to keep yourself going. In contrast, when you suddenly become hit by a wave of tiredness, an emergency nap may sort you right out. This type of nap can combat drowsiness and means you can carry on the activity you were originally engaged in with a new lease of life. And finally, there’s habitual napping, often seen in young children who may fall asleep at the same time every day.

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Image Credit: Flickr

Napping for different lengths of time have varying effects on our brain, and can alter the effectiveness of the nap on relieving tiredness. Recent evidence suggests that naps of different duration provide us with different benefits.

The common Power Nap (15-20 minutes) is suggested to provide a quick jolt of alertness and decrease fatigue – and is often claimed to be the most beneficial length of nap. A nap of between 40-60 minutes is thought to help in memory by forcing memories into the long term memory store of the brain whilst we sleep. However, a sleep for this length of time can lead to grogginess for around half an hour after the nap. This grogginess is technically referred to as sleep inertia, and can be dangerous if alertness is required immediately after waking from the nap. A longer nap of around 90 minutes is referred to as an REM (rapid eye movement) nap. A nap this long avoids the sleep inertia that is experienced with other, shorter types of nap, and is also claimed to improve creativity and memory.

Achieving the best nap possible, requires a room that is as dark and quiet as possible; lying in a comfortable position, and not putting undue strain on your back or neck. The time of the nap is also important, too late and it may disrupt your nightly sleeping pattern. Experts suggest that an ideal napping time is around 4pm.

Often, napping is associated with laziness and a weak work ethic, however a lot of companies now see the benefits of napping to their employees and are beginning to offer “energy pods” or “quiet rooms” that can be used as a napping spot.

Now armed with your new found napping knowledge, plan yourself the ultimate nap and wake up rejuvenated and ready to face the day (or whatever’s left of it).

 

Where Did AIDS Come From?

Katie Jones

AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome and is a disease characterised by an extremely weak immune system. It eventually leads to the patient dying from infection or cancer if left untreated. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) causes AIDS by attacking and invading cells of the immune system and using them as a safe space to grow and increase in number.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Once there are lots of virus particles, they will erupt from the invaded cell and kill it. The virus then travels around the body in the blood to the next immune cell. Therefore, it can hide from the body’s immune system, and kill it at the same time. HIV is spread through the transfer of bodily fluids from one person to another, most commonly through unprotected sex, sharing needles, or across the placenta to a baby during pregnancy.

Over the years, there have been a few theories regarding the origin of AIDS and how it spread throughout the human population.

The most outlandish of these it that HIV is a manmade virus. The first reported cases of HIV were around 1920. At that time scientists had nothing close to the knowledge or technology necessary to produce their own virus. Developing a virus from scratch would require an understanding of genetic manipulation and in the 1920s this information just wasn’t known.

The theory that was probably the most controversial was fronted by the once well-respected retrovirus expert Peter Duesberg from The University of California at Berkeley. He believes that HIV does not cause AIDS. In the 1980s, during the initial height of the AIDS pandemic (the spread of a disease across the world), Duesberg championed The Drug Hypothesis.

The hypothesis suggested that the increase in the use of a variety of drugs, including sex-enhancing recreational drugs such as amyl nitrate (poppers) to HIV-inhibiting drugs like AZT, were what caused HIV. Despite there being a correlation between the people who used these drugs and the incidence of HIV, no causal link was ever found.

The universally accepted theory as to how HIV came to infect humans is that there was a species jump from SIV (a virus closely related to HIV) in primates to humans. It’s suggested that it came from the slaughtering and butchery processes involved in eating ‘bushmeat’, meat from non-domesticated animals, in western Africa.

The butchery process could easily lead to blood and other secretions from infected primates (especially sooty mangabeys) entering open wounds on the human skin. It’s thought that the first transmission of SIV to HIV in humans took place around 1920 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and spread to the neighbouring Republic of Congo in 1937.

As urbanisation increased and people moved from rural to more densely populated areas, HIV increased within the population. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, as transport networks improved and long haul flights became popular, HIV spread around the world.

By the 1980s, there was a high incidence of HIV in Haiti. During the 1960s, a lot of Haitian professionals were working in the DRC, many people blamed them for the spread of HIV and the subsequent pandemic. This lead to the Haitian people suffering from severe racism, stigma and discrimination.

Huge numbers of people still suffer from AIDS because it’s practically impossible to make a vaccine against HIV. The virus mutates so quickly that there are a massive number of strains each requiring a different vaccine; sometimes more than one strain can infect just one person. Also, HIV invades and can remain dormant in the body’s own immune system. Therefore, an attack on the virus could become a simultaneous attack on the body’s healthy cells.

Real and effective treatments for HIV were first released in 1987: a drug called AZT that prevents the virus from replicating and making more viruses. Then in 1992, combination therapies became popular, which reduced the numbers of people dying from AIDS even further. Protease inhibitors (drugs that block the activity of an enzyme that would normally help to make new viruses) were first used in 1995 and this lead to a dramatic drop in death rates.

Looking forward, its high mutation rates mean a vaccine to HIV is probably not the most viable solution – but never say never, who knows what new technologies are around the corner? Instead, a possible solution would be to decrease an HIV-positive person’s viremia (the number of viruses in the blood) to a point where the individual is no longer infective. Therefore, this would lead to a decrease in the spread of HIV, eventually to the point where there are no longer any individuals with the virus.

It’s hugely important that people still remember that anyone can become infected with HIV and that there are many things that we can all do to keep safe and remain informed. The simplest thing that people can do to prevent becoming infected is to practice safe sex and wear a condom; as well as going for regular sexual health tests.

Intravenous drug users are at a high risk of becoming infected with HIV through sharing needles with other people. There are loads of free needle exchanges in most towns and cities across the country. In Sheffield alone, there are 20 chemists participating in the Sheffield Syringe Needle Exchange Scheme.

Developments in our knowledge and technology mean that an HIV-positive diagnosis is no longer a death sentence. Hopefully, further advances in treatment will mean that one day HIV and AIDS will be completely eradicated and millions of lives will be saved as a result.

Are Vegan Diets Healthier?

Katie Jones

The number of vegans in Britain has increased by 360% over the past 10 years, making veganism is one of Britain’s “fastest growing lifestyle movements” – according to the Vegan Society. There are many reasons why people choose to follow a vegan diet. These include animal welfare issues associated with large scale farming, the alleged negative environmental impacts of both the agricultural and fishing industries, and supposed health benefits of a vegan lifestyle. But are vegan diets actually any healthier than vegetarian, pescatarian or omnivorous diets?

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Image Credit: Pixabay

First of all, what is a vegan diet? A vegan diet means removing all animal products from what you eat. This means no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy products.

According to NHS guidelines, there are six main components of a healthy vegan diet. Many of these principles are applicable to omnivores too:

  1. Eat five portions of fruit or vegetables every day.
  2. Base meals on starchy, wholegrain carbohydrates.
  3. Have some dairy alternatives, e.g. soya drinks. Try to choose the lower fat and sugar options.
  4. Eat beans, pulses and other protein sources.
  5. Use unsaturated oils and spreads in small quantities.
  6. Drink between 6-8 glasses of low-sugar fluids a day.

These guidelines are simple, and on the whole, easily achievable. It’s important that vegans have a good understanding of a healthy diet so that they can plan what they eat to make sure that their diet is balanced, and is inclusive of all the necessary food groups. As a result of excluding certain foods from their diets, vegans can be at risk of some nutritional deficiencies – most notably Vitamin B12.

Omnivores can get Vitamin B12 from a range of sources: meat and fish, milk, cheese and eggs. This essential vitamin is used to make red blood cells, keep our nervous systems healthy and to help release energy from the food we eat. Not getting enough Vitamin B12 can lead to Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anaemia. As a result, the body produces red blood cells that are unusually large, meaning that they can’t function in the normal way, which can eventually lead to lower amounts of oxygen in the body. Vegans are still able to include Vitamin B12 in their diets by eating fortified cereals and soya drinks, as well as yeast extract products such as Marmite.

Despite the risk of some vitamin deficiencies, it is definitely possible for people to lead a healthy vegan lifestyle. Over the past decade or so, there has been a huge increase in the number of professional athletes adopting a vegan diets. Many of them swear by it, claiming that it’s contributed to reduced recovery times, greater endurance, and improved performance. One example is Patrik Baboumian, who won the title of Germany’s Strongest Man 2011 (105kg weighting). He was the first vegan to gain this title and states that ‘Almost two years after becoming a vegan I am still improving day by day.’

Other diets also have potential risks – not just veganism. There is increasing evidence that too much red meat is linked to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. And vegetarians often find it difficult to find sources of omega-3 fatty oils, which are claimed to reduce to risk of heart disease. It would seem that all diets have associated risks. Whether you’re a meat thirsty steak lover, or just can’t get enough of tofu and lentils, it’s vitally important to make sure that what you’re eating is well balanced and to live in moderation.

Does Your Taste in Music Reveal Anything About You?

Katie Jones

Whether it’s the poppy, intrusive shrill of a girl band as you struggle through the swarms of shoppers in your local Primark; chocolatey smooth tones of some unknown hipster-with-a-guitar as you sip a latte in an overpriced coffee shop; or the familiar beats of your favourite Spotify playlist as you struggle to meet a deadline in the library — music is an inescapable part of everyday life. Apparently we’re exposed to music for a fifth of our lives – but what influences the music that we listen to? Why do we choose to listen to certain genres and reject others? What can our music taste tell us about our personalities?

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Image Credit: Pexels

A recent study carried out by The University of Cambridge recently claimed that all people can be categorised as either ‘Empathisers’ – fans of R&B and soft rock, ‘Systemisers’ – fans of rock and classical music, or ‘Balanced’ (a mixture of the two). Personally I’m a little skeptical of being able to band all of humanity into these three quite distinct groups.

However, I am more convinced by another deduction from the study. This suggests there are five main ways in which we, as humans, engage with the music that we listen to. They claim that our personality directs the way in which we engage with music; and therefore, what we gain from music shapes our musical preferences and the genres of music that we listen to.

To be more clear, these five areas of musical engagement are:

Emotional Engagement: Those who engage emotionally with music use it as an emotional release, to process both positive and negative feelings.

Intellectual Engagement: These people notice patterns within music more than the average person and engage in the sonic and melodic aspects of music.

Physical Engagement: Those annoying people (according to the test, I’m one, myself) who whether in private or public, find it difficult to listen to music without bobbing their head or tapping their foot.

Social Engagement: Social engagers relate to the artists of the music that they listen to, and gain a sense of belonging and cohesion when listening to music as a group, or when standing in the audience at a concert.

Narrative Engagement: These are people who strive to find meaning within the music that they listen to. They search for symbols within the narrative of the music and tend to compare these to their own life as a way of processing what’s happening in their own day to day life.

Can you see yourself in any of these “Engagement Areas”? It’s likely that you’re a mix of two or three, or even all of them. Alternatively, you may be able to completely rule out a couple too!

Broadly speaking; emotional, intellectual and narrative engagers are more reflective, thoughtful introverts. These people prefer “complex” music and enjoy trying to understand what they listen to. Often they listen too classical, country or rock music, where they can subconsciously investigate the different levels and layers within the music. On the other hand, physical and social engagers tend to be more assertive, talkative extroverts. Typically, these people enjoy music with a more up-tempo, reassuring beat that they can bop along to, or lyrics that they can easily memorise and belt out in a crowd.

I’m not sure whether the findings carried out by the study can add any life-changing meaning to your life, and the results do seem a little simplistic. However, somehow it all seems to make sense. If you’d like to find out what type of musical engager you are, and also help out with some worthwhile research, you can take the quiz yourself by following this link:

http://www.musicaluniverse.org