Wednesday, January 10, 2018

NEWS POST: Chilled Headband To Banish Sleepless Nights

Ebb - Device pumps liquid coolant to the forehead to help chill part of the brain that plays a role in deep sleep Image credit:
A headband that cools the brain could mean a better night’s sleep for people with insomnia. Worn at night, the device pumps a liquid coolant around the front of the scalp and forehead. The idea is it chills the frontal cortex, a part of the brain thought to play a role in deep sleep.

Research has shown that this area is more active in insomniacs — and so, in theory, cooling the forehead above this area will reduce the overactivity and help patients sleep better. A recent study in 106 patients showed it was safe and effective in reducing insomnia, and the device was recently approved for use by the U.S. medicines regulator, the Food and Drug Administration.

Insomnia, which is defined as difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, affects one in three people. In most cases the cause is stress and anxiety, but it can also be due to existing illness or a side-effect of prescription medication.

Treatment can involve lifestyle changes such as adopting ‘good sleep hygiene’, but in many cases patients are subsequently prescribed sleeping pills or drugs such as benzodiazepines, which act as tranquillizers, to help them. Yet these don’t always work and can have serious side-effects, including memory problems, and lead to dependence.

Ebb - headband showing piping into which liquid coolant is pumped Image credit:
The new device, named Ebb, includes a soft fabric headband through which a cooling fluid is circulated. It is connected to a bedside temperature controller that cools and pumps fluid to the headband, which is worn at night.

Previous research has found that cooling the brain — so-called cerebral hypothermia — reduces activity. One theory is that insomnia is not only related to levels of sleepiness, but to high levels of activity or arousal in certain areas of the brain.

Research has shown that there is a reduction in activity in the brain’s frontal cortex when we fall asleep normally, and this is associated with restorative deep sleep. But in people with insomnia, studies using brain scans have shown increased activity in the frontal cortex.

Early research by the developers of the new headband at the University of Pittsburgh in the U.S. revealed cooling this area helped insomniacs sleep just as well as those who don’t suffer from insomnia.

In a study presented at the Academy of Sleep Medicine’s annual conference, insomniacs slept 89 per cent of the time they were in bed when using the cooling headband — and nodded off three minutes earlier than those who had no trouble sleeping.

According to a new study in the journal Sleep, the device, which maintains a temperature of 14c to 16c, is effective for reducing insomnia. The study involved 106 patients at seven centres in the U.S. who had two nights of therapy, with the device being compared with a placebo.

Dr Guy Leschziner, a consultant neurologist at King’s College London, said: ‘We know that sensory stimulation around the neck and head can result in changes in brain activity in a variety of disorders, and this novel technique may be helpful. The preliminary data suggests a small improvement, but how it translates into treatment remains to be seen.’

Meanwhile, a daily chamomile capsule can help insomnia, according to researchers at Kashan University of Medical Sciences in Iran, writing in the journal Complementary Therapy Medicine. Research based on 60 people found those who took capsules containing chamomile extract twice a day for 28 days had significantly improved sleep quality compared with those taking a placebo. One theory is chamomile acts as a mild tranquillizer.

Originally published on DAILY MAIL UK

Thursday, January 04, 2018

GUEST BLOG POST: The Secret To Creativity – And The Simple Tricks You Can Use To Boost Yours — Valerie Van Mulukom

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” on display at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art 
Whether you get mesmerized by Vincent van Gogh’s painting The Starry Night or Albert Einstein’s theories about spacetime, you’ll probably agree that both pieces of work are products of mindblowing creativity. Imagination is what propels us forward as a species – it expands our worlds and brings us new ideas, inventions and discoveries.

But why do we seem to differ so dramatically in our ability to imagine? And can you train yourself to become more imaginative? Science has come up with some answers, based on three different but interlinked types of imagination.

Creative imagination
Creative imagination” is what we normally consider to be creativity with a large C – composing an opera or discovering something groundbreaking. This is different from everyday creativity, such as coming up with imaginative solutions to household problems or making crafts.

Creative inspiration is notoriously elusive. Being able to train creativity or induce a state of creativity has therefore long been the aim of many artists and scientists.

But is it possible? We know that some individuals have a more creative personality than others. Yet research has suggested that creative imagination can also be boosted through our environment or simply putting in lots of hard work. For example, experimental studies have shown that when children engage with creative content or watch others be highly creative, they become more creative themselves.

There are two phases to creative imagination. “Divergent thinking” is the ability to think of a wide variety of ideas, all somehow connected to a main problem or topic. It tends to be supported by intuitive thinking, which is fast and automatic. You then need “convergent thinking” to help you evaluate the ideas for usefulness within the main problem or topic. This process is supported by analytical thinking – which is slow and deliberate – allowing us to select the right idea.

So if you want to write that masterpiece, having lots of brainstorming sessions with friends or taking a course in creative thinking or writing may help you come up with new ideas.

However, that doesn’t necessarily help you select a good one. For that, research suggests that the first requirement is actually exposure and experience. The longer you have worked and thought in a field and learned about a matter – and importantly, dared to make many mistakes – the better you are at intuitively coming up with ideas and analytically selecting the right one.

Einstein thought imagination was key to his success. WikipediaCC BY-SA
Creative success is therefore not so much about finding a muse. As microbiologist Louis Pasteur said: “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” This also applies to art, with Pablo Picasso advising: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Fantastical imagination
For many people, the ability to become completely absorbed by an idea is key to finalizing a successful, creative project. For that you need something scientists call “fantastical imagination”, probably best predicted by your fantasy proneness and imaginative immersion. These describe your tendency to have highly vivid and realistic fantasies and level of absorption in imaginary worlds.

However, given that fantastical imagination can increase daydreaming and distract from everyday obligations, it may not seem like a desirable ability to have, at first glance. There’s even a dark side – one’s fantastical imagination tends to increase as a response to traumatic events by becoming an escape from reality.

But there are benefits. Fantasy engagement in children is associated with increased creative imaginationnarrative ability, and perspective taking. For adults, it may help improve memory consolidation, creative problem-solving and planning.

There are benefits to daydreaming. imtmphoto/Shutterstock
This is also an ability you can boost. Research shows that children who were encouraged by their parents to participate in pretense play and role playing have higher levels of fantasy proneness later in life. And it’s never too late to start – amateur actors are known to have higher fantastical imagination too.

Episodic imagination
“Episodic imagination” is similar to fantastical imagination but predominantly makes use of real (episodic) memory details rather than imaginary (semantic) details when visualizing events in our mind’s eye.

This helps individuals to better imagine alternative pasts and learn from their mistakes, or imagine their futures and prepare for them. The little research that has been done on this so far indicates that individuals with a higher capacity for visual imagery experience more sensory details when imagining their future.

Moreover, though years of self-improvement books suggest to “imagine it and it will happen”, this is actually the opposite of what you should be doing. The best preparation for the future is paradoxically to imagine the process – not the outcome – of your desired future event. One study showed that when students imagined desired outcomes (good grades for an upcoming test) they performed significantly worse than students who imagined the process getting to the desired outcomes (imagining studying thoroughly). Perhaps something to keep in mind for your New Year’s resolutions?

We all have imaginative ability to various degrees, and it’s difficult to imagine where humankind would be without it. So even though you are yet to actually write that novel you’ve got in you somewhere, keep trying. There are many routes to boost creativity, with play, practice, and experience being crucial. It may even make you smarter.

As Einstein himself reportedly once said: “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

Valerie van Mulukom, Research Associate in Psychology, Coventry University. This article was originally published on THE CONVERSATION. Republished on MAIL ONLINE UK

Monday, January 01, 2018

GUEST BLOG POST: Resolve To Give The Perfect Gift To You And Yours: Creativity — Larry Robertson

Image credit: npENGAGE
The most lasting gift you can give yourself or anyone else is creativity. Here's how and why.

I’d warn you it’s coming, but you know as well as I: it’s already here. Each year it arrives earlier than the last — that twin-headed, seasonal beast tenaciously demands we pay it tribute. You know of what I speak: gift giving.

The first head begins shouting sometime before Christmas: “Find the perfect gifts for everyone on your list, or else!” And so we bow to Black Friday (which has now become Black All-of-November). We willingly take the click bait of “10 perfect gifts for the man in your life,” and fight to be the first through the doors when the big sale opens.

Our worry and shopping seems to go on in some form until the ball drops on December 31st — the day head number two roars to us, “Make those New Year’s resolutions!” In that moment, we shift from giving to others to giving to ourselves: a better diet, a better body, fewer bad habits — oh hell, pass the remote and the chocolate!

It’s an odd cycle, isn’t it? On the one hand, when we search for gifts, we seek the ‘new.’ It’s what we long to give others and hope for ourselves, and not just new but lasting, gifts with value and wonder ongoing. But ironically, each year we go about the whole thing in ways that are mostly the same — looking in the same places and by the same process. Is it any wonder when we come up short of the results we dream our gifts will bring?

What if we changed things this time around, maybe for all time? What if this year, regardless of whether we are giving to family, employees, or ourselves, we gave the gift of creativity?

Before you turn back to “the year’s best gift guide” and “the season’s best deals,” consider this: The gift of creativity is on just about everyone’s wish list.

In 2015 a national poll revealed that 94% of American parents believe creative and surprising experiences are among the most important things for their kids to have. The age of the respondent’s children made no difference, nor did the age of the parents. Both moms and dads unanimously agreed that creativity was important.

Turns out creativity is on the corporate shopping list as well. A study of 1,500 CEO’s from 60 countries and 33 industries ranked creativity as the most important quality now and in the future. It’s one of many in the last decade that draw the same conclusion. A fast-changing, tumultuous world was cited as one reason for this necessary skill. Creativity was also linked to creating meaning in one’s job, spurring innovation, and providing a sense of autonomy.

It’s clear we’re all wishing for creativity, but just how do we gift it? It’s simpler than you’d think. But before we talk about that, we must understand what creativity is.

Like those hard-to-find-perfect gifts, we tend to believe that creativity is something only a lucky few receive — some kind of rare gift from the genetic gods. In a similar way, we assume it to be a gift that can only be used in certain places, the arts for example, or the realm of new inventions. Neither is true.

Creativity is a capacity all of us share, and something that can be applied anywhere, by anyone, to create anything new and better. In fact the only difference between so-called creative geniuses and the rest of us is that we’re out of practice while they make a habit of using this universal human capacity.

When you ask the practitioners, as I did in my conversations with nearly 70 MacArthur Fellows (recipients of the so-called genius award), they’ll tell you that creativity begins with being more open — in what we do, how we think, where we go, and what we are willing to try. You can move one important step in that direction by being open to broader ideas about what a gift is and how to give it.

The gift of creativity is as simple as reengaging those habits that rev up the open part of our mind. Rather than giving a “thing,” consider an experience. Instead of “from me, to you” what gift could we share? Here are some other simple suggestions to get you going:

1.      Put yourself into spaces and places you don’t go right now. But as you do, make it easy on yourself — go “right next door.” The biggest possibilities for things new and creative are actually adjacent, not a moon leap away.
2.     Any place you go, deliberately pause and notice. See what you don’t usually see. How do you do that? Follow those questions that naturally arise in your head, the ones you’re currently in the habit of sweeping aside. Follow your hunches too. It’s not about turning your life upside down, but instead learning the childhood habit of discovery again.
3.     Look for beauty. Don’t scoff. Given a moment’s thought, you’ll realize that beauty inspires us (even in its possibility), drives us to create, and rewards us as well. Don’t think of it as how things look, but instead how they make you feel.

The gift of creativity is a lasting gift. It’s an expansive gift as well, providing joy beyond the immediate as it opens up the wonder of the world and what’s possible. A capacity you and every single one of us already possesses, it costs you nothing to give. And resolving to give it to yourself — and to others — is as simple as reviving habits you were born to practice. Consider your shopping done, and start playing with your new favorite gift.

Larry Robertson is the author of two award-winning books: ‘The Language of Man. Learning to Speak Creativity’ and ‘A Deliberate Pause:Entrepreneurship and its Moment in Human Progress’. He’s the founder of two ventures, one for-profit and one non, and a highly respected thought leader in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, advising individuals and organizations across a broad spectrum.