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Deeper Sleep and Faster Sleep Onset with Virtual Reality and Neurostimulation?

Modern technology is messing with our sleep. But what if someone could develop a device that actually helped us fall asleep faster?

In the latest episode of humanOS radio, I talk with Kelly Roman. Kelly is a co-owner of Fisher Wallace Laboratories, a progressive medical device company that aspires to treat insomnia and depression in novel ways.

Fisher Wallace is introducing a neurostimulation product called Kortex to the market. This device non-invasively delivers a low dose of electrical stimulation, combined with a virtual reality headset that delivers relaxing VR content to the user.

And unlike reading on your phone, Kortex might actually *help* you to get to sleep faster, and experience deeper and more restorative sleep. Kortex stimulates the brain to produce serotonin and melatonin, while lowering cortisol – thus helping people manage stress and sleep without prescription drugs.

To learn more about this intriguing product, and the research leading up to it, please check out my interview with Kelly here.


Which Parts of a Meal Can Make You Sleepy? (Keith Murphy Interview)

Everyone knows what it’s like to feel sleepy after a big meal. Think of what happens after Thanksgiving dinner, or after getting a huge lunch at an Indian buffet. If you’re like me, you’re ready to crash.

But why does this happen? Is it the tryptophan in the turkey? Is it from too many carbs? What you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat it all play a role. Consequently, there has been some doubt as to whether the “food coma” is even a real thing.

But recently, some clever researchers identified a good model organism for studying this phenomenon – the fruit fly. And through studying the behavior of Drosophila, we now better understand what causes a food coma, and perhaps why it occurs.

In the latest episode of humanOS Radio, I interview Keith Murphy of the Scripps Research Institute. He and his colleagues have been researching the so-called food coma, and have found some substantive evidence for this phenomenon. Listen here to find out more about his study – and some reasons why the food coma might be happening.


Social Norms – Mysterious Forces That Shape Eating

You are fully in control over your food choices, right? Well, we know that a wide range of rules govern how we act, and even our beliefs, when we are with different groups of people. Social psychologists characterize this influence as ‘social norms,’ and guess what? This influence affects eating, too.

In this latest episode of humanOS radio, I interview Emma Templeton from Thalia Wheatley’s lab at Dartmouth and Michael Stanton, Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing & Health Sciences, California State University, East Bay. Recently, they published a study in the journal, PLoS ONE, that elegantly tests the influence of social norms on the perceived healthfulness of food and also eating behavior. Listen here to listen.


Why Are We Fatter Than Our Ancestors? Interview with Dr. Stephan Guyenet

Why do so many of us overeat – even when we know it’s bad for us?

Like many questions in biology, much of the answer to this question lies in evolution. We know that animals have generally evolved to seek and consume convenient, energy-dense foods. All living things require energy to survive and reproduce, and it makes intuitive sense that genes associated with finding and eating lots of easy calories might be favored by natural selection. This instinct is also evident in humans in natural environments. Hunter-gatherers, who live in conditions similar to that of our evolutionary ancestors, gravitate to delicious high-calorie fare, although they don’t find a great deal of it. When they do get something extra tasty and high in energy – like ripe fruit, fresh meat, and honey – they will gorge on it.

Not unlike us. Modern humans are subject to these impulses as well. So what’s different? Our environment has dramatically changed. Rather than getting rare seasonal opportunities to gorge on rich foods, we are now constantly surrounded by such delicacies. We did not evolve with any need to resist these kinds of tasty treats – so perhaps it is unsurprising that we so often fail despite our best intentions.

Guest

In this episode of humanOS Radio, I talk once again with Dr. Stephan Guyenet, this time about his new book, The Hungry Brain, which was just released this week.

In his book, Stephan addresses the fundamental question of why we overeat. It’s not necessarily for a lack of education on nutrition. Rather, it is due to evolutionarily-conserved circuitry in the brain, which drives us to overeat for short-term pleasure – even when we know it’s at the expense of our health and well-being. In the show, he explains how these circuits work to regulate energy intake and body fatness.

Much of this is based on physiology and genetic predispositions – but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. We also discuss things you can do to manage these primal impulses in a fattening world, and make sure that your daily behaviors are in alignment with your health and weight goals.


Can We Reverse Aging With “Young Blood?”

Can we stave off the aging process by transfusing young blood into old people? The idea that youthful blood might have rejuvenating properties has lingered in popular imagination for centuries.

In this episode of humanOS Radio, I speak with Drs. Michael and Irina Conboy of the Department of Bioengineering at UC Berkeley. Their lab investigates the process of tissue repair throughout the body and is trying to determine why damaged tissue is not productively repaired as the body ages. In their most recent study, they discovered that molecules in aged blood may actually be interfering with the regenerative process. They are trying to identify these inhibitors, and perhaps find a way to clear them from the blood. Are we on the cusp of a breakthrough to help us stay at our peak abilities for decades longer?


Standing for Mental Clarity and Physical Health (Interview with Kelly and Juliet Starrett)

I have to admit, I love this story. Two parents saw a problem effecting their children and did something about it. But not only did they try to help their children and their children’s friends, they also are trying to help every child in the United States.

The guests of this episode of humanOS Radio are Kelly and Juliet Starrett. Kelly is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and the author of the books: Deskbound, Supple Leopard, and Ready to Run. Juliet has a history as a competitive athlete, rowing at UC Berkeley and paddling for the US Women’s Whitewater Team from 1997-2000. Together, they founded San Francisco CrossFit in 2005 (one of the first 50 CrossFit Affiliates ever), they run the healthy movement website called Mobility WOD, and most recently, they started StandUpKids.org the mission of which is to put standing desks in every public school in America. I’m also honored to be on the Board of Directors, which I mentioned in this previous post, to help this great organization achieve its mission.


New Discovery Could Mean Better, Next-Generation Sleep Drugs

Why is it that when you’re binge watching your favorite new series on Netflix, you can stay up for hours past your normal bedtime – even if you were tired before you started watching? On the other hand, if you weren’t being entertained or captivated by a game or puzzle, you’d be much more likely to be lulled to sleep at that time. Indeed, sleep and goal-directed behaviors are mutually exclusive: you can’t do both at the same time. While this relationship is intuitively clear, for the first time, scientists at Stanford have clarified the circuitry between the brain’s reward and arousal systems. In the latest episode of humanOS Radio, I speak with Luis de Lecea, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. Recently, he and his colleagues published a study in the prestigious journal Nature demonstrating that dopamine neuron activity (in the ventral tegmental area of the brain) is necessary in order to be awake. Furthermore, when they inhibited these neurons, there were able to promote what seemed like natural, healthy sleep.


A New Product to Significantly Reduce Jet Lag – Interview with Stanford Professor, Jamie Zeitzer

In Professor Jamie Zietzer’s recent research on light and the timing of biological rhythms, he noticed something curious: brief flashes of light have a greater ability to adjust body clock timing than continuous light exposure.

For instance, let’s say you wanted to adjust your body clock to wake up earlier than you typically do in the coming days (a common scenario for those who travel across time zones). In order to make this adjustment, on the morning before you leave, you could wake up at 4:00am, turn on the room light and go back to sleep. This technique can adjust your clock by about 35 minutes, which means that if you typically awake at 7:30am, you could naturally wake up tomorrow around 6:55am (and the timing of all your other body processes would shift accordingly, too).

On the other hand, if you were to get 2 millisecond flash of light every 10 seconds starting at 4:00am (instead of laying in a room with the light on) – something Jamie’s research has demonstrated you can sleep through – you could advance your clock by about 120 minutes – over 3x more than continuous light.

What does this mean? Well, one thing it means is that it would be a heck of a lot easier to be up and ready before your typical natural wake time in those moments when you have an early start to your day (e.g., early plane flight). The ability to affect your body timing in this manner is more than a mere luxury; it’s also about personal safety and performance. None of us want to be on the road with sleepy drivers, and likewise, no one wants to have to perform at a time when you’re too sleepy to keep your eyes open. This is pretty exciting technology!


Saturated fat – What’s the real story? Interview with Dr. David Katz

Dietary fat is a class of nutrients of which there are many different types. Some types appear to have clear beneficial effects on human physiology in certain contexts, like for example olive oil, while others appear to impair our health when they comprise too high a fraction of our calorie intake over time. Saturated fat has been called out for decades by health authorities as something we should monitor and limit. Recently, however, this idea has been called into question by several meta-analyses, which is a type of scientific examination where all the research on a subject pooled and analyzed together to help determine what the weight of the evidence tells us on that subject. In this interview with Dr. David Katz at Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, we discuss not only the findings but also how to best interpret them so that you can continue to make good dietary choices in your own life.


Young Forever? We’re Actually Getting Closer (Interview with Aubrey de Grey)

Can we really stay young forever? This has been a goal of humans since the dawn of time. I know I would like to keep my peak abilities and not see those diminish over the decades. Aging is a subject that I have become increasingly interested in and it’s not necessarily because I’m getting older. Understanding it can help guide how you live, even way before you start to feel old. Plenty of things we can do today can help us live longer by not dying early from disease. Diet and lifestyle make a huge difference here, but this podcast is really about something entirely different – it’s about using cutting edge biotechnology to actually keep the aging process at bay far beyond what good lifestyle practices could achieve. We’re talking about staying close to your peak abilities in life through the age of 130 to 150, or even longer.