The 4-7-8 Breathing Technique Will Help You Get To Sleep Faster (Biology)

Envision a morning of waking up feeling alert and well rested, before consuming your daily cup of coffee. Sadly, for more than a third of United States adults, this is only in their dreams. That’s partially because the constant commotion and unexpected stressors of today’s world keep our minds constantly occupied. However, while you may not have the ability to control some things, you can focus your attention on what you can control: your breathing. By regulating your breathing patterns, you can achieve the clear and relaxed state of mind you need to fall asleep. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is simple and requires no equipment but yourself.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a breathing pattern developed by Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s based on an ancient yogi technique called Pranayama, which helps practitioners gain control over their breathing. Here’s how it works:

1. Breathe in slowly through your nose for four seconds.
2. Hold your breath for seven seconds.
3. Exhale for eight seconds.

All the while, relax your jaw muscles and keep your mouth closed while inhaling through your nose. When exhaling, practice releasing any tension from your body by pushing air through your lips so it sounds like a gust of wind. The tip of your tongue should rest on the roof of your mouth, directly behind your upper front teeth.

The specific amount of time spent on each stage isn’t important, but the ratio of 4:7:8 is what’s most critical. This means the breathing technique can be adjusted based on the level of your breath-holding ability. Whether you have swimmer’s lungs or some trouble catching your breath, the exercise can be sped up or slowed down as long as the 4:7:8 ratio is being kept for the three phases — that is, hold your breath for roughly double the time it took you to breathe in, then exhale for exactly double your inhale time. Focus is important, too. It’s easy to let your mind wander to the events of the day, but when you notice your thoughts straying, force yourself to turn back to the 4-7-8 breathing technique.

The 4-7-8 technique works because when it comes to your nervous system, breathing is special. It’s both an automatic reflex and a voluntary action — think about the way your breathing speeds up when you’re scared and slows down when you’re calm, all without your control. Stressful situations can trigger other automatic reflexes, such as an increase in heart rate and the release of stress hormones. But because breathing is part of that automatic system, consciously slowing your breathing can also slow down those other stress reactions. The 4:7:8 breathing ratio forces you to slow your breathing, which helps you fall asleep in a shorter period of time and sleep longer through the night.

Getting quality sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. A good night of shut-eye does everything from helping you perform better on memory tasks to regulating blood pressure. If you’re conscious of your health, it’s a good idea to put away your smartphone, crank some pink noise, practice your breathing, and get yourself to sleep. You’ll thank us tomorrow.


Too Much Sleep May Be Just As Harmful As Too Little (Medicine)

Work was brutal this week, and as a result, you got less than five hours of sleep every night. Finally, the weekend is here and you’re ready to earn those lost hours back with luxurious, back-to-back nights of 10-hour sleeping marathons. Well, science is here to tell you to reconsider that plan. Not only will you probably feel more tired, but that extra sleep could also take a toll on your health.

We all know there are risks associated with getting too little sleep. Chronic lack of sleep is linked to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, and even early death. Well, it turns out, chronic oversleeping carries the same risks.

In 2016, a study in the International Journal of Cardiology delved into the sleep habits of nearly 400,000 Taiwanese adults over seven years. It found that when compared to people who slept six to eight hours per night, those who slept less than four hours per night increased their risk of dying from heart disease by 34 percent. Those who slept more than eight hours per night? Nearly identical — their risk increased by 35 percent. Likewise, a 2015 study in the journal Neurology found that people who slept more than eight hours a night experienced a higher risk of stroke, and a 2009 study in Sleep Medicine found the same thing for type II diabetes risk.

But hold on, you might say. These are just correlations. What if it’s a person’s lousy health that leads to oversleeping, and not the other way around? Excellent point. Luckily, in 2014, a team of researchers studied the genetics behind these sleep-based health effects with nearly 900 pairs of twins for a study published in the journal Sleep. By using statistical models that examined genetic interactions, they were able to figure out how much a health issue like depression was influenced by genetics — that is, how much it was inherited and how much it was due to a person’s environment — and whether sleep had an effect on that heritability. They found that while depressive symptoms had a heritability of about 27 percent in people who got around seven to nine hours of sleep per night, for those who got less than seven or more than nine, the heritability hovered around 50 percent. That’s right: under- and oversleeping actually messes with your DNA.

HOW MUCH SLEEP IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT?

How much sleep is too much (or too little) depends on a number of factors, particularly your age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get somewhere in the ballpark of seven to nine hours of sleep per night, though some can get away with as little as six or as much as 10. Generally, if you’re waking up feeling well rested without nagging headaches, back pain, or grogginess, you’re probably fine. If you think you might not be sleeping the right amount, however, it’s important to try your best to get to bed on time — and get out of bed on time, too.


If You Can’t Sleep, Here’s What Experts Say To Do (Psychology)

You’re lying awake, alternately counting sheep and staring at the ceiling. It’s two, then three in the morning. Birds, squirrels, even bugs are sleeping — everyone but you. Most people have some experience with this, and if you have insomnia, you’ve experienced it a lot. Well, we’ve got the silver bullet: Get up!

This sounds like a non sequitur, but bear with us: In Ivan Pavlov’s famous behavioral experiments, he found that dogs started salivating when they saw scientists in white lab coats. To the canines, the coats signaled that they were about to be fed. The coats, in other words, gave the dogs a strong and vibrant “food cue.”

Environmental cues like this play a bigger role in human psychology than we give them credit for. They don’t just make dogs drool; they help us fall asleep. Insomnia, in fact, often arises when people’s beds and bedrooms no longer offer a clear “sleep cue.”

Hence stimulus control therapy, a popular insomnia treatment developed by clinical psychologist Richard Bootzin in the 1970s. Its central idea is that you should only use your bed for sleep (and sex). To ensure this, Bootzin recommends going to bed only when you’re really sleepy.

In other words, you shouldn’t lie awake in bed. If you’re awake, get up. “Do not read, watch television, eat, or worry in bed,” either, Bootzin advises. Doing so amounts to “stimulus dyscontrol” and creates the opposite of a sleep cue — a muddled cue that tells your brain that it could be bedtime, dinnertime, or anxious ceiling-staring time.

So what should you do instead? Well, stimulus control therapy involves making your bed a sleep-only zone, but it’s more complex than that. All told, his therapy has five steps:

1) ONLY GO TO BED WHEN YOU ARE REALLY SLEEPY

Not just tuckered out from a long day — sleepy, as in you’re yawning and you can’t keep your eyes open.

2) GET UP IF YOU CAN’T SLEEP

If after 15 minutes or so spent lying in bed, you’re still counting sheep, leave your bedroom and do something low-intensity for a half hour to an hour. Try to avoid looking at a screen, since the blue light can disturb your sleep even more. Instead, try reading a book, listening to a podcast, or drawing a picture.

When you’re in bed, don’t watch the clock to see if 15 minutes has passed, though. Clock-watching is the opposite of going to sleep. If you feel frustrated and wide awake, get up.

3) STAY UP FOR A PRE-DETERMINED LENGTH OF TIME

When you get up in the middle of the night, don’t wait to feel tired before you go back to bed. That puts too much pressure on you to monitor yourself and keeps you from relaxing. Instead, decide how long you’ll stay up in advance — say, 20 minutes — and stick to it. If you go back to bed and still can’t sleep, get up again.

4) WAKE UP AT THE SAME TIME EVERY MORNING

Yes, even on weekends. This is just good sleep hygiene and has health benefits for everybody. However, for insomniacs specifically, a regular wake-up time — no matter how well or badly you slept the night before — helps the body shift into healthier sleep patterns.

5) DON’T NAP

Napping throws off your sleep cycle. Yes, sometimes it feels good, but long term, it has the same effect as an erratic wake-up time: It teaches your body that sleeping at night is optional. Plus, if you sleep on the office couch as well as your bed, it weakens the bed’s sleep cue.


This Is The Most Annoying Word In English Language (Psychology)

Whatever.

How does that word make you feel? As words go, it’s not a particularly beloved one. For nine years straight, “whatever” has been voted the most annoying word in the English language. Sorry, bratty teenagers.

One of the most exciting days for American English comes but only once a year: the day when the New Marist Institute of Public Opinion releases its poll results for the year’s most annoying words or phrases. Demonstrating commendable staying power, the word “whatever” ranked as the most annoying word or phrase used in casual conversation. And this “Clueless”–esque word held its less-than-coveted number-one spot for eleven years, from 2008 to 2019. (There hasn’t yet been a poll released for the most annoying word since then, but we’re holding out hope.)

In 2017 as compared to 2016, “whatever” was beginning to gain a bit more acceptability. The poll found that only 28 percent of respondents under the age of 45 voted for “whatever,” while it was the choice of 40 percent of respondents over 45. “It has been more than 20 years since ‘whatever’ first gained infamy in the movie ‘Clueless,'” Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, the Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said in a statement. “While the word irks older Americans, those who are younger might not find ‘whatever’ to be so annoying.”

But what is it about “whatever” that really drives Americans bananas? Since 38 percent of the 1,005 people polled were most annoyed by the word “whatever,” it’s worth exploring. The Oxford Dictionary includes this informal definition: “Said as a response indicating a reluctance to discuss something, often implying indifference.” It’s the indifference bit that really grinds peoples’ gears.

Here are all the words and phrases that ranked for really getting a rise out of people in 2017:

• Whatever: 33%
• Fake news: 23%
• No offense, but: 20%
• Literally: 11%
• You know what I mean: 10%

For those keeping score at home, here were the words that annoyed the heck out of Americans in 2016:

• Whatever: 38%
• No offense, but: 20%
• You know, right?: 14%
• I can’t even: 14%
• Huge: 8%
• Unsure: 5%


Folie A Duex Is The Psychosis You Share With The One You Love (Psychiatry)

When you live in close proximity to someone, it’s common for illness to spread from one person to another. But mental illness? It’s possible. The phenomenon is technically called shared psychotic disorder, but it’s most famously known as folie à deux.

The first case of the condition was documented in the 19th century and described a 30-something married couple, Margaret and Michael. The couple shared a delusion that people were sneaking into their house at night spreading dust, dropping pieces of fluff, and wearing down the soles of the couple’s shoes.

In another instance, not two, but three sisters experienced what could be called “folie à trois.” Two of the sisters moved into a house near a third sister to help her care for her children, and over time, all three became closer and more religious. At one point, the youngest began believing that there were troubling discrepancies between different versions of the Bible and became determined to make them right. For three days, the sisters prayed nonstop without sleeping until they believed that God wanted them to have a particular house in the town. Even though the house didn’t belong to them, the sisters went to the house and demanded to be let in, even breaking windows and attacking the occupant until police arrived.

According to a review published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shared psychotic disorder most often affects people in very close relationships, such as married couples, siblings, and parents and children. They’re also usually socially isolated, and often have pre-existing mental illness. The condition takes several forms, the most common and oldest known of which is “folie imposée,” or “imposed madness.” In that form, the more dominating person in the pair spreads his or her delusion to the more submissive, who doesn’t resist the ideas.

There’s also “folie simultanée”, or “simultaneous madness,” where two people with a deep connection both experience the delusion at once; “folie communiquée,” or “communicated madness,” which is like imposed madness except there’s a period of resistance from the second person; and “folie induite” or “induced madness,” which is like communicated madness except that extra delusions are spread from a second person.

Luckily, in most of these forms, the cure is simple: just separate the two people. When that doesn’t work — which, especially in cases of folie communiquée and folie induite, it may not — psychiatrists can resort to medication or electroconvulsive therapy. But, as Esther Inglis-Arkell of io9 points out, the tendency to share mental eccentricities isn’t always bad — and we all do it. “There are few old married [couples] who don’t share eccentricities. There are few families, or even close friendships, that don’t require both people to work with the various mental glitches of the other. We all go a little crazy for the other people in our lives.”


The Tongue Map You Learned In School Is All Wrong (Biology)

In grade school, you may have learned that specific zones of the tongue taste specific flavors. The very tip, for instance, tastes sweetness, and the back edges, by the molars, taste sourness. Well, we have an update for you: Though it’s still getting published in science textbooks, that factoid’s not true.

The tongue map has its roots in a more-than-a-century-old German experiment. Scientist David P. Hänig, curious about taste perception, drizzled four flavors along the edges of volunteers’ tongues: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty.

Hänig focused on the edges of the tongue, specifically, because they’re particularly dense with taste buds.

In a 1901 paper, he described his findings: Certain zones of his volunteers’ tongues were more sensitive to certain flavors. For instance, it took less sweet drizzle on the tip of the tongue, typically, for a volunteer to perceive a sweet taste.

He graphed the relative flavor sensitivities around the edges of the tongue in a confusing way, though, and made the variation look more extreme than it actually was. A glance at his convoluted graph made the tip of the tongue look like the only zone that could taste sweetness at all.

In the 1940s, a Harvard scientist amplified this distortion even further, translating Hänig’s graphed findings into the tongue map you’re likely familiar with. He published the map without a legend in his book “Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology.”

From there, it took off in a surprising way. It was, after all, a map of a tongue made by a man named Mr. Boring — not an Ariana Grande single. The map’s patchwork quality appealed to something primal and categorizing in people, though; stemware company Riedel even designed wine glasses with the tongue map in mind.

Unfortunately for wine enthusiasts, though, the tongue doesn’t work like that.

It’s not that no animal’s tongue has that patchwork, compartmentalized quality. Fruit flies, for instance, taste with 32 hairs, and each hair senses a different flavor. Humans, though, don’t work like that — probably.

Compared to the four other senses, there’s a dearth of research on taste, so there’s still some controversy around how taste even works and how many tastes there are. On a microbiological level, though, different receptors in our taste buds seem to taste different flavors. Each of our taste buds contains 50 to 150 receptors for each flavor.

In other words, receptors for all the flavors are distributed across the tongue and beyond. We have thousands of taste buds, in papillae, or tiny bumps, on our tongues, as well as on the roofs of our mouths and on the epiglottis, the flap that protects the windpipe. You can taste sweetness on the tip of your tongue, but also basically anywhere else in your mouth.

There is some regional variance in flavor sensitivity, researchers have found, but they’ve deemed it basically negligible. Hänig was onto something back in 1901 — but it wasn’t that significant, and it certainly didn’t legitimize the taste map of the tongue.

So the next time you want to taste something, don’t look at a map. Your tongue knows what to do.


Blind People Can Describe How Animals Look Like. But How? (Biology)

Adults born blind have rich insight into what animals they’ve never seen like hippos and sharks look like, a new study finds.

“First-person experience isn’t the only way to develop a rich understanding of the world around us,” says corresponding author Judy Kim, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University to futurity. “Essentially, the question is, how do we know what we know?”

While some previous research has shown that blind people do have knowledge of things like light and color, researchers still have little understanding of what blind people know about appearance and how they learn such information. Some studies suggest that people born blind remember verbal facts, like “flamingos are pink,” so the research team wanted to investigate further.

“People often have the intuition that we can’t know what we can’t see,” says Kim to futurity.

The researchers presented 20 blind and 20 sighted adults with animal names and asked participants to order animals by size (smallest to largest) and height (shortest to tallest); sort animals into groups based on shape, skin texture, and color; pick which animal out of a group is unlike the others in shape; and choose from various texture options (“Does a hippo have feathers, fur, skin, or scales?”).

Overall, blind and sighted participants organized animals in similar ways and agreed on which physical features were most likely to be observed within animal groups. For example, blind and sighted participants judged that dolphins are similar in shape to sharks and sloths are similar in texture to grizzlies. Fifteen out of 20 blind and 19 out of 20 sighted participants judged elephants to be bigger than rhinos. But the groups also showed some differences.

Contrary to the idea that blind people learn about animal appearance from sighted people’s descriptions of what animals look like, blind and sighted participants disagreed most about the dimension that was easiest for sighted people to describe in words: animal color.

Sighted participants created groups for white, pink, black, black and white, brown, and grey animals, and they easily labeled these groups according to their primary colors. By contrast, sighted people had a hard time verbally describing their shape groupings; they used many words and did not agree with each other. Nevertheless, blind people created similar shape groups to the sighted but did not make consistent color groups.

The researchers found that to deduce what animals looked like, blind people relied on similar biological classifications that scientists use to group species. This strategy works very well for shape and texture: birds, for example, have feathers and a characteristic winged shape. Such inference works less well for color because many very different animals are white (e.g., swans, polar bears, and sheep).

The main conclusion is that blind people develop rich and accurate ideas about appearance based on inference.

“It’s sometimes assumed that the senses and direct experience are the best way to learn about the world. What the findings show is that linguistic communication can give us rich and accurate knowledge, even knowledge that at first glance seems ‘visual.'” says coauthor Marina Bedny, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences to futurity.

“Neither sighted nor blind people living in urban environments really need to know about wild animals. But we are fascinated by them. Knowing about lions and elephants is part of our culture and blind people who are members of the same culture infer animal appearance from linguistic communication,” Bedny says to futurity.


References: Judy S. Kim, Giulia V. Elli, and Marina Bedny, “Knowledge of animal appearance among sighted and blind adults”, PNAS June 4, 2019 116 (23), pp. 11213-11222; 2019 doi: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1900952116 link: https://www.pnas.org/content/116/23/11213

Sweat Is Not Detoxifying (Biology)

Doesn’t it feel good to sweat? To feel your muscles warm up, to feel your heart pump, to feel the toxins escape through your pores … well, everything except that last part. It turns out that, contrary to popular belief, sweat really isn’t detoxifying. The real detox happens in completely different organs. Still, we love to sweat all the same.

Saunas, hot yoga studios, and sweat lodges all swear by the detoxifying effects of sweating. And it seems reasonable: Something smelly is coming out of your pores, which means there’s less smelly stuff inside of you. Right?

In truth, hardly any harmful chemicals come out in your sweat. Sweat is mostly water, plus a certain concentration of sodium, chloride, and potassium, and sometimes proteins and fatty acids. It does include some “toxins,” but only trace amounts, and those are dwarfed by the quantities that your liver and kidneys constantly flush out of your body.

“Most of the ‘toxins’ that concern people include pesticides, residue from plastics, or from air pollution,” dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse told Vice. “These tend to be fat-soluble, and do not dissolve well in water, so they will not be removed from the body in any significant quantity, given that sweat is 99 percent water.”

But what about the smell? The stink of sweat isn’t from toxins, but from the chemistry of your own skin. You have two types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands are located all over your body, and the sweat they produce is there to cool you down when you’re hot. That sweat is usually odorless, but it can take on a funky smell when it’s broken down by bacteria on your skin or if you’ve been eating particularly pungent foods like garlic or cabbage. Sweating after a night of drinking can also douse your eccrine-gland sweat with diacetic acid, which smells like vinegar — though again, you’re just sweating out the smell, not the alcohol or any other “toxins.”

Your apocrine glands lead to even funkier sweat. These glands are located in the spots known for stinky smells, like the groin and armpits, and they’re responsible for the telltale scent of stress sweat. The sweat they produce is milky and odorless until, again, the bacteria on your skin start chowing down and producing a bouquet of B.O.

To reiterate: Both types of sweat start out odorless, for the most part. They only get smelly when they interact with the bacteria on your skin, and any smell they do start out with is due to compounds your body has already broken down and was getting rid of anyway. Sweat is almost entirely water, and that water contains hardly anything you could consider a toxin.

On the contrary, attempting to “detox” by sweating it out can actually do more harm than good. If you don’t replace that sweat by drinking enough water, you’ll get dehydrated, which is the perfect way to stress your kidneys and keep them from doing their job — you know, the job of detoxifying you. That’s not to say sweating is bad. It’s a great way to cool off, as long as you follow it up with a refreshing swig of water.


You Really Do Have A Type (Psychology)

You’ve just gone through a breakup. You round up your friends to help drown your sorrows and trash talk your awful ex. But as everyone analyzes your ex’s flaws, it conjures up talk of exes past, and your friends gently conclude that you “have a type.”

Sound familiar?

There’s good news and bad news: The bad news is that your friends are right; according to research from the University of Toronto, you probably DO have a type. The good news is that you’re not alone in this pattern, and you might even be able to use it to your advantage.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, relied on data from the German Family Panel Study, a nine-year exploration of couple and family dynamics involving thousands of teenagers, young adults, and middle-aged participants. For this study, psychology researchers Yoobin Park and Geoff MacDonald used data from 332 participants with at least two partners during the previous nine years who had completed a Big Five personality assessment. That’s a standard, research-backed personality test that measures people on five factors: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

The fact that the scientists examined the romantic partners’ first-person testimonials rather than rely on a participant’s characterization of their current partner or ex is important. Asking someone to compare their beloved to an ex-partner could understandably introduce bias into the study, so the scientists sought out people whose partners had filled out their own self-reports to filter out the rosy glow of a newly developing relationship and the bitterness from a relationship gone bad.

Even so, when the study authors compared the partners’ personalities, they found significant consistency between the participant’s current partner’s and their past partners. In other words, a participant’s current significant other described him or herself in the same ways as the participant’s previous beaus.

“It’s common that when a relationship ends, people attribute the breakup to their ex-partner’s personality and decide they need to date a different type of person,” lead author Yoobin Park said in a press release about the study. “Our research suggests there’s a strong tendency to nevertheless continue to date a similar personality.”

Previous research established that individuals often date people who are similar to themselves, though it has been a bit unclear whether people consciously pair themselves with romantic partners who are similar to them or whether these pairings result from shared environments like work or church.

Park and MacDonald’s findings went further, showing that individuals tend to pick partners with similar personalities to each other, regardless of how similar the partners were to the individual.

“The effect is more than just a tendency to date someone similar to yourself,” Park said.

In fact, some people are more likely to date people similar to themselves than others. The researchers found that a more neurotic person, for example, was more likely to date someone different from him or herself, while people who were high in agreeableness, extroversion, and openness to experience were more likely to date someone similar to themselves.

At the same time, however, the romantic partners of those high in extroversion and openness to experience were less similar to each other, meaning that people with these personality traits were less likely to “have a type.” The scientists suggest that this could be because someone who’s more sociable and open to new experiences has a larger, more varied network of friends and potential romantic partners.

If you find that you’re having the same problems in a series of romantic relationships, there can be some wisdom in your friends’ advice to date someone who’s “not your type.” But what you learn from past relationships can be helpful when dating a similar partner in the future.

“In every relationship, people learn strategies for working with their partner’s personality,” says Park. “If your new partner’s personality resembles your ex-partner’s personality, transferring the skills you learned might be an effective way to start a new relationship on a good footing.”