Electric Sleep: The Gadgetry Tracking and Hacking The Way We Rest

As activity tracking goes mainstream, an arsenal of consumer technology is rolling out for sleep. But how much do these interventions help?

At 2.16am, I stumble to the bathroom. I catch a glimpse of myself. The light from the red bulb is flattering – I’ve been told to eliminate all blue light on my nocturnal trek – but the sleep-tracker headband, currently emitting the sound of gently lapping waves, kills any woke-up-like-this vibe. I adjust its double straps and feel my way back to bed.

The next time I wake is at 6.30am – after fractured dreams in which the Dreem 2 headband makes many cameos – to birdsong, also from the headband. When I check the app, I see I have slept six-and-a-half hours of my anticipated eight. Anxious to remedy this, I head out for my first coffee. In his new book Blueprint: Build a Bulletproof Body for Extreme Adventure in 365 Days, athlete Ross Edgley warns that this sort of overriding behaviour can bring about “biochemical bankruptcy”. Not now, Ross.

Health influencers like Edgley are all over sleep lately, and no wonder, when so many of us obsess over it. A 2021 report released by the Sleep Health Foundation estimates around one in 10 Australians have a sleep disorder, while a report from 2019 found that more than half are suffering from at least one chronic sleep symptom. Studies have suggested that sleep deficiency can lead to weight gain and a weakened immune system and that poor sleep patterns may contribute to later dementia risk.

In recent years, sleep-fretting has intersected with fitness-tracking, with the latest bio-hacks regularly featured on the podcasts of personal-development heavyweights such as Joe Rogan, whose Whoop Strap – worn around the wrist – told him he was getting four or five hours a night, not the seven or eight he’d thought; and Aubrey Marcus, whose Oura ring measures various biomarkers overnight and gives him a total score in the morning. “If I can get close to 80%, I’m golden for the day,” Marcus told the authors of My Morning Routine.

Wearables, such as watches, rings and headbands, appeal to those of us who enjoy geeking out on our stats, but could they also be cultivating anxiety and feeding into insomnia? Associate Prof Darren Mansfield, a sleep disorders and respiratory physician who is also deputy chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, thinks some balance is needed.

“These devices in general can be a good thing,” he says. “They’re not as accurate as a laboratory-based sleep study, but they are progressing in that direction, and technology enables the person to be engaged in their health. Where it can become problematic is people can become a bit enslaved by the data, which can lead to anxiety or rumination over the results and significance. That might escalate any problems, or even start creating problems.”

As a clinician, Mansfield thinks that the most useful role of these devices is monitoring routine, not obsessing over the hours of good-quality sleep. “There will be some error margin, but nonetheless when we’re looking for diagnostic information, like timing of sleep and duration of sleep, they can capture that,” he says.

Since Mansfield admits his sleep doesn’t need much hacking, I seek out an insomniac-turned-human guinea pig. Mike Toner runs the dance music agency Thick as Thieves, and has been on a mission for five years to fix the sleep issues earned from a decade of late nights in Melbourne clubs and reaching for his phone to answer international emails at 3am.

“I tried everything,” he says. “Magnesium capsules and spray, melatonin and herbal sleep aids. I even signed up for treatment at a sleep centre. You sleep in this room with all these wires connected to you, things coming out of your nose, cameras trained on you. Ironically, I slept better that night than I have any other night.”

He decided to start monitoring his body in earnest, learning about the latest devices from the Huberman Lab Podcast and The Quantified Scientist. Sleep-monitoring wearables have progressed from having an accelerometer to track movements which are fed through an algorithm to predict when a person is asleep, to being able to track sleep latency; sleep efficacy; heart-rate variability; light, deep and REM sleep and sleeping positions.

Toner’s accumulated a few as the technology becomes more sophisticated. He estimates having spent around $1,500 on them, and a further $3,500 for the sleep-centre treatment.

Then there are the cooling devices. Toner beds down on a Chilipad as soon as the weather gets warmer – a hydro-powered cooling mattress.

The idea is that lying down in a cool room – perhaps after taking a warm shower – tricks the body into slumber, since our body temperature drops when we’re asleep.

Non-techy strategies include having hands and feet out from under the covers, or using a fan. Lifestyle guru and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss recommends a short ice bath before bed. Be warned, though: Dave Asprey – founder of Bulletproof, which sells high-performance products – once tried putting ice packs on his body right before bed. As he told MensHealth.com: “I ended up getting ice burns on about 15% of my body.”

Mansfield says that ensuring you’re cooler in the evenings may help with sleep. “Generally, a lower-level temperature is better tolerated at night … 25C can make a beautiful, comfortable day, but can be unbearably hot at night when our own core temperature drops, so 18C or 19C is more tolerable.

“Then in the last two hours before getting up, your temperature rises again – you might have thrown off the blanket in the night and then might wake up at 5am feeling freezing cold.”

And what about the new frontiers of technology? According to neuroscientist Matthew Walker, in his influential book Why We Sleep, in the future, we can expect the marriage of tracking devices with in-home networked devices such as thermostats and lighting.

“Using common machine-learning algorithms applied over time, we should be able to intelligently teach the home thermostat what the thermal sweet spot is of each occupant in each bedroom, based on the biophysiology calculated by their sleep-tracking device,” Walker says. “Better still, we could program a natural circadian lull and rise in temperature across the night that is in harmony with each body’s expectations.”

Mansfield thinks this kind of integration is feasible, and that a thermostat linked to a device measuring circadian rhythms offers plausible benefits in preparing people’s sleep, but he predicts that automated control of room lighting will wind up being manually overridden, because technology can’t necessarily gauge when we’re in the middle of reading a book or having a conversation. “It’s liable to just irritate people,” he says. He’s more interested in technology that will track conditions like sleep apnoea.

As Toner has concluded, no device is a silver bullet. Ultimately, it was a $70 online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) course that his GP referred him to that fixed his sleep over three months of strict adherence. Now he just uses technology to make sure he’s not drifting off track.

The key lessons? Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Set your alarm for the same time, no matter how late you get to bed. Screens off early. No day-napping. Alcohol is a bad idea. All of these things are easily monitored yourself using a good old notebook, and they don’t cost a cent. They just take persistence.

With those good habits in place, Toner is now mindful of how he will put the CBT pointers he’s learned during lockdowns into practice once his life picks up its pace again.

“I used to put this obligation on myself to be there all the time with my artists, but interestingly, coming out of this pandemic, a lot of the artists are having the same train of thought as I am, wanting to avoid late nights,” Toner says.

He’s even coaching some of them for a charity run – quite the lifestyle change for many. “I’ve spent so long fixing this that one of the things I’ve realized, when we eventually go back to work routines, is I’m going to be fiercely protective of my sleep.

By:

Source: Electric sleep: the gadgetry tracking and hacking the way we rest | Sleep | The Guardian

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Scientists Predict Early Covid-19 Symptoms Using AI (And An App)

Combining self-reported symptoms with Artificial Intelligence can predict the early symptoms of Covid-19, according to research led by scientists at Kings College London. Previous studies have predicted whether people will develop Covid using symptoms from the peak of viral infection, which can be less relevant over time — fever is common during later phases, for instance.

The new study reveals which symptoms of infection can be used for early detection of the disease. Published in the journal The Lancet Digital Health, the research used data collected via the ZOE COVID Symptom Study smartphone app. Each app user logged any symptoms that they experienced over the first 3 days, plus the result of a subsequent PCR test for Coronavirus and personal information like age and sex.

Researchers used those self-reported data from the app to assess three models for predicting Covid in advance, which involved using one dataset to train a given model before its performance was tested on another set. The training set included almost 183,000 people who reported symptoms from 16 October to 30 November 2020, while the test dataset consisted of more than 15,000 participants with data between 16 October and 30 November.

The three models were: 1) a statistical method called logical regression; 2) a National Health Service (NHS) algorithm, and; 3) an Artificial Intelligence (AI) approach known as a ‘hierarchical Gaussian process’. Of the three prediction models, the AI approach performed the best, so it was then used to identify patterns in the data. The AI prediction model was sensitive enough to find which symptoms were most relevant in various groups of people.

The subgroups were occupation (healthcare professional versus non-healthcare), age group (16-39, 40-59, 60-79, 80+ years old), sex (male or female), Body-Mass Index (BMI as underweight, normal, overweight/obese) and several well-known health conditions. According to results produced by the AI model, loss of smell was the most relevant early symptom among both healthcare and non-healthcare workers, and the two groups also reported chest pain and a persistent cough.

The symptoms varied among age groups: loss of smell had less relevance to people over 60 years old, for instance, and seemed irrelevant to those over 80 — highlighting age as a key factor in early Covid detection. There was no big difference between sexes for their reported symptoms, but shortness of breath, fatigue and chills/shivers were more relevant signs for men than for women.

No particular patterns were found in BMI subgroups either and, in terms of health conditions, heart disease was most relevant for predicting Covid. As the study’s symptoms were from 2020, its results might only apply to the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and Alpha variant – the two variants with highest prevalence in the UK that year.

The predictions wouldn’t have been possible without the self-reported data from the ZOE COVID Symptom Study project, a non-profit collaboration between scientists and personalized health company ZOE, which was co-founded by genetic epidemiologist Tim Spector of Kings College London.

The project’s website keeps an up-to-date ranking of the top 5 Covid symptoms reported by British people who are now fully vaccinated (with a Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine), have so far received one of the two doses, or are still unvaccinated. Those top 5 symptoms provide a useful resource if you want to know which signs are common for the most prevalent variant circulating in a population — currently Delta – as distinct variants can be associated with different symptoms.

When a new variant emerges in future, you could pass some personal information (such as age) to the AI prediction model so it shows the early symptoms most relevant to you — and, if you developed those symptoms, take a Covid test and perhaps self-isolate before you transmit the virus to other people. As the new study concludes, such steps would help alleviate stress on public health services:

“Early detection of SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals is crucial to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and efficiently allocate medical resources.” Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website or some of my other work here.

I’m a science communicator and award-winning journalist with a PhD in evolutionary biology. I specialize in explaining scientific concepts that appear in popular culture and mainly write about health, nature and technology. I spent several years at BBC Science Focus magazine, running the features section and writing about everything from gay genes and internet memes to the science of death and origin of life. I’ve also contributed to Scientific American and Men’s Health. My latest book is ’50 Biology Ideas You Really Need to Know’.

Source: Scientists Predict Early Covid-19 Symptoms Using AI (And An App)

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Critics:

Healthcare providers and researchers are faced with an exponentially increasing volume of information about COVID-19, which makes it difficult to derive insights that can inform treatment. In response, AWS launched CORD-19 Search, a new search website powered by machine learning, that can help researchers quickly and easily search for research papers and documents and answer questions like “When is the salivary viral load highest for COVID-19?”

Built on the Allen Institute for AI’s CORD-19 open research dataset of more than 128,000 research papers and other materials, this machine learning solution can extract relevant medical information from unstructured text and delivers robust natural-language query capabilities, helping to accelerate the pace of discovery.

In the field of medical imaging, meanwhile, researchers are using machine learning to help recognize patterns in images, enhancing the ability of radiologists to indicate the probability of disease and diagnose it earlier.

UC San Diego Health has engineered a new method to diagnose pneumonia earlier, a condition associated with severe COVID-19. This early detection helps doctors quickly triage patients to the appropriate level of care even before a COVID-19 diagnosis is confirmed. Trained with 22,000 notations by human radiologists, the machine learning algorithm overlays x-rays with colour-coded maps that indicate pneumonia probability. With credits donated from the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative, these methods have now been deployed to every chest x-ray and CT scan throughout UC San Diego Health in a clinical research study.

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A Link Between The Gut and Diet May Mean a Cure For an Incurable Disease

Your gut is a thriving universe unto itself. This tiny cosmos is inhabited by thousands on thousands of microorganisms, which together make up your gut microbiome. Among other things, this internal ecosystem contains bacteria that we rely on to help us break down and process the foods that we’re not readily equipped to digest. But a slew of recent scientific studies shows that our gut also connects more broadly to our holistic health, even to things that are seemingly unrelated, like our brains.

The science is preliminary, but there is compelling evidence that what you eat — and in turn, that changes the gut microbiome — has an outsized influence on your health. But not in the way you’d think. What’s new — A new study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances looks at how diet could alter multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms via the gut microbiome. By feeding mice with an MS-like condition a specific diet, scientists were able to reprogram their gut bacteria — and reduce their symptoms.

The study started with the observation that the gut microbiomes of people with MS lack a kind of bacteria that, in most folks’ gut, breakdowns a nutrient called isoflavones. This nutrient is commonly found in everyday staple foods, like soy and beans. So, the team hypothesized that MS might be related to the absence of these bacteria — and in turn, eating more foods with isoflavones in them could alleviate the symptoms.

From there, they were able to demonstrate the critical difference that the bacteria’s presence or absence can make in this disease. Why it matters — This study is so intriguing because it identifies a clear relationship between the gut, the food we eat, and our brain and body health.

In the new study, the researchers go further than past work by not only establishing a clear link between gut bacteria and diet, but also the mechanisms driving the relationship — and how to potentially game it to our advantage. “The hypothesis has always been that bacterial composition is tightly linked to diet,” says Sergio Baranzini, a neurology professor at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the research.

While other studies have investigated this relationship, “what those studies fell short of is showing what could be the potential mechanism.” MS is rare, but it also occupies a place in the public consciousness, in part because of its insidious effects on the body. TV personality Jack Osbourne and actress Selma Blair have both been diagnosed with the disease.

MS essentially wreaks its havoc by putting the central nervous system out of business. Over time, people with MS will slowly lose their sensory, motor, and cognitive abilities. There is no cure — but this study hints at the promise of dietary interventions to quell some of its effects. Baranzini was impressed with the revelation. “I was surprised to see that everything was working,” he says. “It felt like, ‘Can this be too good to be true?’ ”

Digging into the details — First, it’s key to learn about isoflavones, a nutrient present in many common foods, and what it does in the body.

Foods rich in isoflavones include:

  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Pistachios
  • Chickpeas
  • Peanuts
  • Other beans and legumes.

Our guts can’t naturally break down isoflavones, so we host a strain of bacteria that do the hard work of metabolizing them. While beans and legumes offer myriad benefits, it’s not the isoflavone itself that is the secret ingredient to health. Rather, it’s the type of bacteria in our gut microbiome that metabolize the isoflavone. If you introduce isoflavone by eating lots of beans and peanuts, then the bacteria will flourish.

How they did it — In this study, the researchers fed a group of mice infected with an experimental version of MS an isoflavone-rich diet and also fed another group of infected mice an isoflavone-free diet. The mice that ate the isoflavone-free diet deteriorated far more rapidly over the course of three weeks, while the mice that ate the isoflavones deteriorated at a much slower rate.

The reason for this effect has to do with how the different elements of the microbiome work together to safeguard our body’s health, according to Ashutosh Mangalam, the study’s corresponding author and a pathology professor at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. He likens the gut microbiome to a town. The town doctor is one of the most crucial elements, and if you remove the doctor, then the town as a whole suffers. But, if the doctor comes back, then the town can recover.

But if you are worried about MS, there is no reason to start eating a bean-rich diet just yet (although beans are great). “In science we have learned that everything is a Goldilocks system,” says Mangalam. Everything is good in moderation.

What’s next — This study is a first step on the road to treatments that are cheap, effective, and simple. There’s currently no cure for MS, but more broadly, the effect seen here of a bean-rich diet hints at the influence of both isoflavones and the gut on other conditions to do with aging and neurodegeneration, like ALS, or Lou Gherig’s Disease, something Mangalam is confident will bear out.

Testing this idea in humans is on the horizon, though any human participants will follow a slightly different diet regimen — more beans. Baranzini also cautions that making the jump from mice to humans carries new challenges. While it may be possible to treat experimentally induced MS with a nutrient found in beans, MS in humans is another beast entirely.

Mangalam plans to seek out how the microbiome influences MS in other ways, too. “I am well aware that MS is not a singular disease,” he says. “We might have to divide MS patients into certain categories based on microbiome function.” “That’s what my dream research is for the next five to 10 years, to try to identify what [other bacteria are] lacking.”

Abstract: The gut microbiota is a potential environmental factor that influences the development of multiple sclerosis (MS). We and others have demonstrated that patients with MS and healthy individuals have distinct gut microbiomes. However, the pathogenic relevance of these differences remains unclear. Previously, we showed that bacteria that metabolize isoflavones are less abundant in patients with MS, suggesting that isoflavone-metabolizing bacteria might provide protection against MS. Here, using a mouse model of MS, we report that an isoflavone diet provides protection against disease, which is dependent on the presence of isoflavone-metabolizing bacteria and their metabolite equol. Notably, the composition of the gut microbiome in mice fed an isoflavone diet exhibited parallels to healthy human donors, whereas the composition in those fed an isoflavone-free diet exhibited parallels to patients with MS. Collectively, our study provides evidence that dietary-induced gut microbial changes alleviate disease severity and may contribute to MS pathogenesis.

Source: A link between the gut and diet may mean a cure for an incurable disease

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Critics:

While it’s important to understand that there’s a place for all foods to fit into a healthy lifestyle, some should be minimized where possible to help optimize gut health,” explains Turnbull. When it comes to eating for a healthy gut, these foods aren’t on the roster:

Refined grains. Refined carbs (i.e. white pasta, white bread) basically feed the “bad” bacteria in your digestive system, according to an article in the journal Nutrients,. This can “decrease the ratio of good bacteria found in the gut, which may lead to inflammation,” says Turnbull. Moreover, processed carbs are “harder for your gut to break down and are more likely to cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms,” says Bryan Curtin, M.D., MHSc, board-certified gastroenterologist at the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center. (See also: Is Fasting Good for Your Gut Bacteria?)

Processed foods. While you’re at it, cut back on processed foods (think: fast food, packaged snacks) in general. These items lack the nutrients found in produce that normally feed good bacteria, says Turnbull, and, ya know, benefit tons of other parts of your body. In fact, research suggests that processed foods create the ideal environment for inflammation-causing microbes, aka inflammation that can pave the way for IBD and IBS. Also, many processed, frozen, and canned foods are sneaky sources of gluten, so you’ll want to steer clear if you have celiac disease.

High-fat foods. Though fat is an essential macronutrient, eating too many high-fat foods (i.e. fried foods) can cause your gut to work extra hard, which can hinder microbial diversity, she explains. And research agrees: foods high in fat — mainly saturated and trans-fat — can reduce Lactobacillus and Akkermansia muciniphila, two microbes linked to good health. In turn, high-fat foods may exacerbate symptoms such as bloating, nausea, gas, and diarrhea, so it’s worth limiting them if you have a digestive disorder, says Turnbull. (Related: 7 Ways to Bolster Good Gut Bacteria, Besides Eating Yogurt)

Dairy products. When it comes to dairy, moderation may be the way to go. In fact, a diet low in dairy (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) can increase friendly bacteria — Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium — and decrease the bad guys — Clostridium — according to a 2017 review. You may also want to avoid high-lactose dairy if you have a digestive disorder or lactose intolerance, a condition that affects 68 percent of people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This includes “cow’s milk, buttermilk, low-fat yogurt, evaporated and condensed milk,” says Turnbull.

Red meat. To protect your gut, limit red meat like pork, beef, and lamb, especially if it’s processed. (Sorry, bacon.) Not only is it high in saturated fats, but red meat also reduces levels of good bacteria, according to the aforementioned 2017 review. Another 2020 review in Advances in Nutrition shares that red meat *also* increases numbers of the bad guys, like Proteobacteria. Talk about double trouble.

“While it’s important to understand that there’s a place for all foods to fit into a healthy lifestyle, some should be minimized where possible to help optimize gut health,” explains Turnbull. When it comes to eating for a healthy gut, these foods aren’t on the roster:

Refined grains. Refined carbs (i.e. white pasta, white bread) basically feed the “bad” bacteria in your digestive system, according to an article in the journal Nutrients,. This can “decrease the ratio of good bacteria found in the gut, which may lead to inflammation,” says Turnbull. Moreover, processed carbs are “harder for your gut to break down and are more likely to cause unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms,” says Bryan Curtin, M.D., MHSc, board-certified gastroenterologist at the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center. (See also: Is Fasting Good for Your Gut Bacteria?)

Processed foods. While you’re at it, cut back on processed foods (think: fast food, packaged snacks) in general. These items lack the nutrients found in produce that normally feed good bacteria, says Turnbull, and, ya know, benefit tons of other parts of your body. In fact, research suggests that processed foods create the ideal environment for inflammation-causing microbes, aka inflammation that can pave the way for IBD and IBS. Also, many processed, frozen, and canned foods are sneaky sources of gluten, so you’ll want to steer clear if you have celiac disease.

High-fat foods. Though fat is an essential macronutrient, eating too many high-fat foods (i.e. fried foods) can cause your gut to work extra hard, which can hinder microbial diversity, she explains. And research agrees: foods high in fat — mainly saturated and trans-fat — can reduce Lactobacillus and Akkermansia muciniphila, two microbes linked to good health. In turn, high-fat foods may exacerbate symptoms such as bloating, nausea, gas, and diarrhea, so it’s worth limiting them if you have a digestive disorder, says Turnbull. (Related: 7 Ways to Bolster Good Gut Bacteria, Besides Eating Yogurt)

Dairy products. When it comes to dairy, moderation may be the way to go. In fact, a diet low in dairy (i.e. the Mediterranean diet) can increase friendly bacteria — Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium — and decrease the bad guys — Clostridium — according to a 2017 review. You may also want to avoid high-lactose dairy if you have a digestive disorder or lactose intolerance, a condition that affects 68 percent of people worldwide, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. This includes “cow’s milk, buttermilk, low-fat yogurt, evaporated and condensed milk,” says Turnbull.

Red meat. To protect your gut, limit red meat like pork, beef, and lamb, especially if it’s processed. (Sorry, bacon.) Not only is it high in saturated fats, but red meat also reduces levels of good bacteria, according to the aforementioned 2017 review. Another 2020 review in Advances in Nutrition shares that red meat *also* increases numbers of the bad guys, like Proteobacteria. Talk about double trouble.

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