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Health and wellness

Sleep disorders less likely if you feel good about life, say scientists – but they don’t yet know which comes first

Sleep apnoea – which causes breathing interruptions – or restless leg syndrome, in which sufferers thrash their legs in bed, are much less prevalent in people who believe their lives have value, study of older Americans finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 8:02pm

Whether you sleep easily at night or toss and turn may relate to your outlook on life. The journal Sleep Science and Practice published a study recently that showed people who felt good about their life were less likely to report troubles such as sleep apnoea or restless leg syndrome – disorders that cause breathing interruptions and the need to thrash your limbs to overcome discomfort.

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Researchers from Chicago’s Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine surveyed more than 800 older adults with a mean age of 79, more than half of whom were African Americans, on how they felt about their lives. Items included, “I feel good when I think of what I’ve done in the past and what I hope to do in the future”, and, “Some people wander aimlessly through life, but I am not one of them.”

The results indicate the benefits of positive psychology on sleep health: those who believed their lives had value were 63 per cent less likely to have sleep apnoea and 52 per cent less likely to have restless legs syndrome at follow-up two years after the study.

So does better sleep quality lead to a better quality of life – or vice versa? The study’s authors note that individuals with a high purpose in life tend to have better overall mental and physical health, as they are more likely to exercise, have regular medical check-ups and adequate relaxation – which lead to better sleep. On the flip side, having physical and mental health problems such as depression and heart disease can keep a person awake at night.

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Future research could look at using mindfulness-based therapies such as meditation to enhance purpose in life – and to examine their effect on sleep health – researchers suggest.

A 2012 study from the Hong Kong Education University showed four in 10 Hong Kong people, 2.2 million, suffered from insomnia.

Temporary malignant melanoma tattoo helps trainee doctors relate to skin cancer patients’ fears

A little make-believe may have a magical effect on the way doctors interact with patients, or so a study in the British Journal of Dermatology suggests.

To help medical students from Queen’s University Belfast, in Northern Ireland, experience challenges skin cancer patients face, they were asked to wear a lifelike temporary tattoo of a malignant melanoma for a day before hearing an audio recording of a patient describing what it was like to discover the cancer spot on their skin.

Afterwards, the future doctors jotted down their own thoughts and feelings and took part in interviews with experts.

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Professor Nigel King, associate dean of research in the School of Human and Health Sciences at the University of Huddersfield, in northern England, contributed to the study’s methodology and analysis. For the 10 fourth-year students who took part in the simulation, “it was a powerful experience”, he said, that helped them to relate to the person behind the disease, and feel their fears.

There is a rising incidence of melanoma, but medical students have few chances to meet patients with the disease. University training stresses the importance of intellectual forms of learning – but not experiential learning that can give insights into a condition.

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This study provided an inexpensive way for medical students to feel as though they “had” melanoma, to understand what it felt like to have a visible physical sign of cancer, and to develop empathy.

Researchers hope to repeat the study with other groups such as nursing students.