Posts Tagged ‘Neurogenesis’

Neuroscience 2008: We Sleep to Remember!

November 19, 2008

The Twitter: “We remember to sleep so we can sleep to remember!” — William Fishbein

The Big Idea: Sleep is a prime protagonist in the story of neurogenesis!

Sleep. Aaah, what a beautiful thing!

Yet when we mere mortals are deprived of our zzzzss, we get cranky and frustrated, if not downright nasty in negotiating simple tasks like adding numbers on a grocery bill or attempting to avoid freeway gridlock by rerouting a shorter drive home! Talking to a local Starbucks barista, I learned having no sleep is “way worse than getting sick!”

I’m not sure researchers at Neuroscience 2008 have tackled the nuances of that claim, but of those who are working in the sleep research field, sleep in all of its blessed and disturbed varieties –uninterrupted, interrupted, fragmented – along with napping, is being explored with new enthusiasm.

Looking back on his long career in sleep research, William Fishbein at City University in NY, remarked how far and expanded the field of sleep research had become. Speaking on a press panel of distinguished sleep researchers, Fishbein presented data that pointed up to our neuro-cognitive need for naps. What do naps actually accomplish? Fishbein and colleagues showed that a snooze siesta reinforces the neural networks formed during morning hours devoted to relational (or associative) learning!

As previously reported on this blogsite, napping has moved front and center into the discussion of high performance and human productivity. Fishbein’s research adds to the richly layered network of findings that suggest memory, decision-making, rote skill performance and the substrate of neurogenesis are enhanced with a rested brain, depleted with a tired brain.

The take home message? Sleep, like oxygen, is necessary for growth and survival of the human brain/body on Planet Earth!

Reporting from D.C. this is Dr. G. wishing you an uninterrupted good night’s rest.

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Touching Story: NPR reports Brain Adapts to Hand Transplant!

October 15, 2008

Twitter feed from NPR:  

Yesterday (Oct 13) NPR reported on the success former amputee Dave Savage is having in adapting to his new hand transplant.   Do notice, the term “adaptation” here points to the capacity of Savage’s brain (and central nervous system) to remodel neural networks in order to operate his new hand.

Courtesy of Jewish Hospital, Kleinert Kutz and University of Louisville

Courtesy of Jewish Hospital, Kleinert Kutz and University of Louisville

Savage’s story is rather touching, to say the least, and puts a kinder, human face on the harrowing Silver Spring monkeys epic that pushed neuroscience into the study of neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

For NPR’s report on the neural implications of Savage’s hand transplant, go to: 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95593579

For the story of the Silver Spring Monkeys , see Sharon Begley’s discussion in TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN, or Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley’s narrative in THE MIND AND THE BRAIN.

And for readers of SpaceSuit Yoga, the implications:  The lessons of neuroplasticity are so far-reaching as to push us all to rethink and recontextualize our work, our creativity, our lives with respect to the innate power of our brains.

Wonders never cease!

Dr. G.

Heat Wave!: Brain Cooling Tips for Election Countdown

September 7, 2008

The Platform: Post Olympic Blues — The 2008 Election Season

The Twitter: Stress Deteriorates the Brain!

The Big Idea: Save Neural Real Estate This Election Year; Cool Your Brain with Meditation or Mental Practice!                                                                                                                                                    

Sigh… the Olympics are over and now in the U.S., on to prime time political battles. Just when we were enjoying the soaring feelings of watching Phelps win his 8 golds, or drooling at the double men’s diving (when did that sport enter the fray?), our brains are already beginning to fry! Regardless of your party affiliation, the stress that mounts by witnessing the battle at home, will clearly not contribute to “neurogenesis” — what neuroscientists regards as the creation of new synaptic connections in the brain. (One has to wonder how many brain cell connections have been burned over the rise and rhetoric of the new “lipstick pitbull” — Sarah Palin.

So if you want keep your neural “real estate” intact, then I suggest the following SpaceSuit Yoga brain tip for this electoral season: Brain Cooling.

1 ) One of the most well known and empirically tested brain cooling meditative techniques is Zen Meditation. A recent post in LiveScience.com noted an Emory University study that has validated Zen’s effectiveness in quieting the brain’s tendency to be distracted by spontaneous outbursts or a barrage of information flow just as we might find in diagnoses of ADD or OCD behavior. Breath, posture, the ritual of repetition. It’s all there:  As Sharon Begley reminds us, ‘we must train the mind in order to change the brain.’

If not Zen, then start a mental practice of cooling the brain with an image of deep relaxation and restoration, supported by gentle breathing.  Whether it’s a picture of hanging out on Australia’s Gold Coast or laying down on soft green grass by a radiant blue lake in Tahoe; visualize a place where you feel most calm, a place you can easily imagine in your mind’s eye.  Bring your awareness of breathing into the space of that picture and enjoy the deep sense of relaxation that comes with every breath.

(For training in meditation and mental practice, scroll through this blog for tips or contact me for links to meditation training centers in the US and abroad.)

Other mind clearing/brain cooling options: 

3) Take a strong whiff of grapefruit or peppermint oil and let the freshness fill your awareness.

4) Try a  hot, hot, hot steam-bath, a long run, or a focused round of poker or pool.

Brain cooling, in other words, is a mindful method of training the brain to move into a zone that allows for neutrality (what the Mahayana Buddhist’s call “empty space” or a zone of positive thinking. As Alvaro Fernandez, in review of the L. A. Times special on learning and memory, points out: positive thoughts and experience lift our spirits and contribute to “neurogenesis.”  (For a brief and to the point commentary on the neural effects of stress, see Sharpbrains.com — search for “Neural Wreckage”  Feb 8, 2008 blog entry.)

Independents, Green Party Animals, Dems and GOP take note.

MAY THE BREATH BE WITH YOU AS WE APPROACH NOVEMBER 4TH!

Dr.  G.