10 posts from November, 2017

Circadian rhythms and health: What’s the connection?

Posted November 20th, 2017 by

More than 3,600 PatientsLikeme members are living with insomnia, and 100+ report a circadian rhythm disorder. In October, three researchers won the Nobel Prize for their work examining the relationship between sleep, circadian rhythms and health. So with Daylight Saving Time just behind us, we’re bringing you more info about the “body clock” and how it can affect health.

Let’s back up — what ARE circadian rhythms?

  • Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, or behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They’re regulated by biological clocks, which exist in most tissues and organs in the cells.
  • A master clock coordinates all of the biological clocks and contributes to our sleep patterns (it also affects eating habits, body temperature, and other functions).
  • These internal “body clocks” are affected by environmental cues, like sunlight and temperature.

New research making headlines

The 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to three Americans for their work on circadian rhythms. The Nobel committee said their research was pivotal, because “the misalignment between a person’s lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by an inner timekeeper — jet lag after a trans-Atlantic flight, for example — could affect well-being and over time could contribute to the risks for various diseases.”

What’s the relationship between sleep and circadian rhythms?

  • Circadian rhythms help determine our sleep patterns. The body’s master clock, or SCN, controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. It receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves. So when there is less light—like at night—the SCN tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy.
  • For most adults, the biggest dip in energy happens in the middle of the night (between 2:00am and 4:00am) and just after lunchtime (ever crave a post-lunch nap around 1:00pm to 3:00pm?).
  • When things disrupt your sleep habits, like jet lag, daylight savings time, or a late night, they also disrupt your circadian rhythms, which can leave you feeling more irritable and make it harder to concentrate.
  • People who work rotating or shift schedules (nurses, law enforcement, etc.) are most at risk for disrupted circadian rhythms. Having an irregular schedule can wreak havoc on circadian rhythms.
  • All caught up on sleep? You won’t feel the dips and rises of your circadian rhythms as strongly. When you’re sleep-deprived, you may notice bigger swings of sleepiness and alertness.

How can it impact health and chronic illness?

  • Circadian rhythms influence short term memory, creativity and learning performance, weight gain/loss and your immune system.
  • Lack of sleep affects levels of metabolic hormones that regulate satiety and hunger. When you’re sleep deprived, your body decreases production of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain you’re satisfied, and increases ghrelin, a hormone that triggers hunger.
  • Disrupted circadian rhythms and lack of sleep are associated with diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder — and can negatively affect many chronic illnesses, including Parkinson disease, Alzheimer’s, MS, gastrointestinal tract disorders and kidney disease.

Think your circadian rhythms might be out of whack?

  • Try minimizing your screen time with electronics that mimic daylight (laptops, TV’s, cell phones, portable game consoles, etc.). And if possible, try to maintain a regular schedule when it comes to sleep, wake and meal times.
  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, feeling tired often or noticing any other symptoms, talk to your doctor.

How are you sleeping? Join PatientsLikeMe to connect with and learn from nearly 3,600 members with insomnia and share how your condition affects your sleep and circadian rhythm in the forum.

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Illustrating member perspectives on life with chronic illness

Posted November 17th, 2017 by

In medical terms, most health conditions have clear definitions. But only people living with chronic illness know what it really feels like to live with it — and making others understand can be a challenge.

When we asked some PatientsLikeMe members to explain what life was like with their condition, their responses painted vivid pictures of what they’re going through. So, we asked PatientsLikeMe User Experience Designer Kristina Ng to turn those descriptions into illustrations. Depicting life with lupus, multiple sclerosis, mental health and more, Kristina’s illustrations sparked a discussion in the PatientsLikeMe community.

Battling cluelessness and confusion

Member Tommy Dubuque was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in October 2002, though he’d been experiencing symptoms long before that. “I first noticed symptoms in the mid 1990’s. My youngest daughter told my wife that sometimes my hand would shake. It was getting harder for me to get out of chairs and get up from the ground if I was doing yard work. I just attributed it to old age and not taking care of myself as a young man.”

Tommy was forced to retire in 2006, but that didn’t stop him from staying physically active. “I began physically working hard around our property.” He remodeled a bathroom, built a stone patio, removed an above-ground swimming pool and more. “I was just trying to figure out how not to take my anger out on others. That’s when I realized that PD may win the war, but I can fight the battles and do that to the best of my ability every day.”

How does Tommy describe life with Parkinson’s disease? Take a look…

Tommy has been a PatientsLikeMe member since 2007, and has been connecting with others like him for ten years. “I found a community of wonderful caring people. We were like a small rural community even though we were spread out across the world… This is an isolating disease that makes some people embarrassed about how their body moves, and reclusive, so I make sure to welcome new members.”

Knocking down barriers

Larry Tilson is a PatientsLikeMe member living with ALS. He shared his story with us by typing with his eyes using Eye Gaze technology. “My first sensation of not being able to move came in the winter of 2007, when I started having trouble buttoning a shirt and tying my shoes. It felt like something was restricting my movement.”

Gradually, Larry says the feeling progressed from his hands to his lower arms, then to his back and core muscles. “It feels like I am pushing through an ever-thickening invisible substance.”

Larry is in a different place now than the initial disbelief he felt when he was diagnosed. When he began to research he discovered other people living with ALS were living productive lives. “That’s when I decided to accept the fact that I have ALS and fight to stay productive. I don’t lie down. I try each day to find a way to enrich someone else’s life in some way.”

Take a look at how Larry describes life with his condition…

What’s Larry’s focus these days? “I try to knock down a barrier, help to change a rule, right a wrong, or contribute to science in some way like sharing my information on PatientsLikeMe. That is what makes me smile. To touch someone else’s life in a positive way, whether they know it or not.”

Interested in seeing the rest of this illustration series? Join the PatientsLikeMe community and view the rest of the images in the forum.

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