You Are Not Sleeping Enough!

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By Samantha Chong

Midterms and paper due dates haven’t all passed yet, and with finals coming up, it never seems to end. Have you been getting as much sleep as you would like since everything started? We know all too well how important it is to get enough sleep. In addition to being vital for ensuring physical and mental wellbeing, sleep also plays a role as a protective factor against various health problems and chronic illnesses (Roberts, Roberts & Xing, 2011). But let’s be truthful here – the majority of us have poor sleeping habits. As university students trying to keep up with our lives, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night has inevitably become one of the many luxuries we cannot afford.

What contributes to our low quality of sleep? A recent study by Zunhammer, Eichhammer and Busch (2014) found that students do in fact shorten their time in bed so that they can spend more time studying. They also found that exam stress is the most profound predictor for poor sleep quality experienced by students, and that some students suffer from symptoms of insomnia during exam period. This finding does make sense, considering the fact that most of us have to balance around 5 courses (and the work load that comes with each), part time jobs, socializing, exercising, and the list goes on. At the end of the day, the only thing we can put off is sleep! It seems to be justifiable from our perspective.

However, this sleep restriction that we impose on ourselves will only do more harm than good in the long run. For example, a recent study showed that it can even do damage to our waistlines. While the relationship between getting enough sleep and aid in weight loss remains unclear, research has found that lack of sleep is partly responsible for our weight gain. Markwald et al. (2012) has shown that sleep loss increases an individual’s food intake; this is a physiological adaptation to provide the body with the energy needed to sustain extended wakefulness. I’m sure most of us have no trouble relating to this. When we find ourselves frequently pulling all-nighters, the stomach growl at 1:00 a.m. leads us to reach for the bag of cookies or that bowl of instant noodles. We are consuming calories to gain energy when we should be sleeping!

Here’s one question I have always pondered: can we ever catch up on our sleep? While the majority of us can’t seem to afford a full sleep cycle on weekdays, we sleep in on weekends with the hopes of compensating for the lack of sleep during the school week. Are these 2 days of extended sleep really sufficient for us to recover from our sleep deprivation? Pejovic et al. (2013) have suggested that this strategy is only partially successful. Their study found that individuals who engaged in this strategy were able to decrease daytime sleepiness, and their overall levels of stress hormone cortisol were reduced. However, the strategy was not sufficient to improve everyday performance, suggesting that more than two days of extended sleep may be required.

Clearly, sleep is a basic need that we all take for granted despite its importance in aiding our daily functions. As a result of a bad night’s sleep, we pay the cost of having to start a brand new day while suffering from sleep deprivation. Getting enough sleep allows the body to rejuvenate itself while the minds is put to rest. To help us place more value on our sleep quality, Schardt (2012) proposed a few sleep remedies worth keeping in mind: regular engagement in exercise (which increases the time spent in slow-wave sleep), yoga, and taking a hot bath before going to bed (which helps to lower body temperature—one of the physiological triggers for sleep).

Now, stop reading and go get some sleep!

References

Markwald, R. R., Melanson, E. L., Smith, M. R., Higgins, J., Perreault, L., Eckel, R. H., & Wright, K. P. (2013). Impact of insufficient sleep on total daily energy expenditure, food intake, and weight gain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(14), 5695-5700.

Pejovic, S., Basta, M., Vgontzas, A. N., Kritikou, I., Shaffer, M. L., Tsaoussoglou, M., … & Chrousos, G. P. (2013). Effects of recovery sleep after one work week of mild sleep restriction on interleukin-6 and cortisol secretion and daytime sleepiness and performance. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism305(7), E890-E896.

Schardt, D. (2012). Sleep on It. Nutrition Action Health Letter39(3), 9-11.

Zunhammer M, Eichhammer P, Busch V (2014) Sleep Quality during Exam Stress: The Role of Alcohol, Caffeine and Nicotine. PLoS ONE 9(10): e109490. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0109490

Samantha is a Psychology major and a research assistant at the Health & Adult Developmental Lab. She hopes to pursue a future career in the field of applied psychology. She enjoys reading novels, and, ideally, spending her weekends exploring cafes or bakeries in Vancouver. She is also a chocoholic and a dog lover.

While You Are Doing, I Am Feeling: The Potential of Mirror Neurons

By Rowena Kong

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Since the discovery of mirror neurons about two decades ago, research into their functions to explain their existence in humans and primates have provided us with an ever richer understanding of their remarkable network system in the brain (Marshall, 2014). The mirror neuron circuitry was first observed in the premotor cortex of the macaques, and subsequently in other frontal and parietal cortical regions, particularly those responsible for perceptual and motor processes. Mirror neurons are essentially motor neurons which fire during both execution and observation of an action. The first researchers to discover this group of neurons termed them mirror neurons based on the discovery that the macaques in their study were observing actions as if they were a reflection of their own in a mirror. Thus, the pioneering discovery was followed by research on imitation and empathy in an effort to piece together the puzzle of these neurons’ existence and function(s) from theoretical and empirical standpoints.

There is certainly a selective social advantage for the function of mirror neurons in facilitating imitation. Iacoboni (2009), in his review of the relationship between imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons, concluded that imitation, as a precondition for empathy, is automatic and effortless. This is a direct pathway through which imitation and imitation learning operate. In other words, we are able to put ourselves in others’ shoes because our actions would correspond with theirs were we faced with similar situations; furthermore, the performance of a physical action necessitates an understanding of the logic behind it. Chartrand and Bargh (1999) showed that the frequency of spontaneous imitation by subjects correlated positively with their empathy scores.

Psyched_MirrorNeurons_PicHowever, we should consider the possibility that an intermediary implicit mechanism that enhances the empathic response may be involved. After all, a positive association between imitation and empathy may not be indicative of a cause-and-effect relationship. Empathy, as a rather complex encompassment of perceptual, cognitive and emotional processes, does not rely solely on the mirror neuron system but also on other brain regions that affect our appraisal of another’s plight (Corradini & Antonietti, 2013). The fact that research on mirror neurons and empathy has mostly focused on the negative reactions of pain and disgust suggests that the positive aspects of emotion may have been neglected as another measure along the wide spectrum of empathy.

Imitation may also take place along a second more complex, unconscious route that similarly leads to engagement in the observed action at a later point in time. The involvement of motor behaviour is again emphasised. Examples of studies which are in line with this argument were conducted by Bargh et al. (1996) and Dijksterhuis et al. (2000). In these studies, participants who were primed with words and questions typically related with the elderly actually acted more ‘elderly’ and performed poorly in memory tasks following the priming.

Another issue highlighted in the review concerning the function of mirror neurons is that perception and action are represented in similar ways in the brain, which explains why they fire during both processes, even at the single-cell level. This also leads to the question of the plasticity and functional versatility of such neurons. Since the regions in our brains devoted to sensory systems can adapt to the processing of alternative representations of stimuli in the event of a deficit in one faculty (as in the case of sensory substitution devices which compensate for a defective sense, e.g. vision, by conversion of visual stimuli information into an auditory format), the potential multifunctional capability of these intriguing members of our neurobiological makeup has yet to be explored (Reich, Maidenbaum, & Amedi, 2012).

References

Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype-activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230–44.

Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893–910.

Corradini, A., & Antonietti, A. (2013). Mirror neurons and their function in cognitively understood empathy. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 1152-1161.

Dijksterhuis, A., Bargh, J., & Miedema, J. (2000). Of men and mackerels: Attention and automatic behavior. In H. Bless, & J. P. Forgas (Eds.), Subjective experience in social cognition and behavior (pp. 36–51). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 653-670.

Marshall, J. (2014). Mirror neurons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , 111,  6531.

A Dose of Reality (TV)

By Paula Concepcion

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I have to admit: I absolutely love watching TV.

If I’m not busy studying or reading or sleeping, I’m probably watching TV – catching a new episode of one of those series I’m into, or, more often than not, a new episode of one of my favorite reality TV shows.

I’ve been watching reality TV probably since I was eleven, and it all began with my family catching an episode of the third season of The Amazing Race. Since then, I’ve kept up with that show along with other shows like Survivor and America’s Next Top Model. I have also watched parts of shows like The X Factor, The Voice, and American Idol. This makes me wonder: what is it about these kinds of shows that keeps me tuning in, anticipating a new episode? Continue reading

Using Social Media to Build a Class on Social Media

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By Catherine Rawn

Over the next year I’ll be developing a course called the Psychology of Social Media, which I will teach as Psyc 325 in January 2016 at UBC. This course is currently listed as a developmental course, but we will emphasize themes of social and personality psychology (which relate to identity and personality development). I’m excited to be developing this new, rich course, and have already begun brainstorming. Continue reading

Participate in a Peer Learning & Peer Assessment study

PeerassesswbGreat news! Professors Peter Graf and Catherine Rawn have received UBC funding towards their project ‘Fostering Peer Learning & Assessment Skill’. This project will create and evaluate the tools and support materials needed for including a pedagogically valid and reliable peer assessment component in the Psych 101 & 102 classes. Continue reading

Simple strategies to feel happy

Smiley Button As Symbol For Cheer Or HappinessBy Ashley Whillans

Happiness means something different to everyone, but what we all have in common is the need to make it a priority. Not only does happiness feel good in the moment, but a lot of scientific research suggests that happier people live longer and healthier lives. And if you’re a student, feeling happy has the additional benefit of reducing stress and improving academic performance. Continue reading

The Latin word colloquium means conversation

colloquiumlargeA series of intriguing talks and scientific inspiration.
Annually the Department of Psychology hosts a Colloquium Series throughout the academic year. This exciting program brings us together outside of the classroom to have conversations with our faculty and students and the speakers we’ve invited to our campus to share their ideas. Continue reading

UBC Psych prof Kiley Hamlin shares research on early moral cognition with the Dalai Lama

KHDLcropped-1024x410On October 22, 2014 Prof. Kiley Hamlin took part in the sold-out event Educating the Heart in the Early Years: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama at UBC’s Chan Centre for Performing Arts.

This unique dialogue featured a keynote address by the Dalai Lama and a panel of leading researchers from UBC who discussed the science behind the Dalai Lama’s belief that consciously teaching children to be compassionate and altruistic in their earliest years has a profoundly positive effect on their social, emotional and spiritual well-being throughout life. Continue reading