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Lucid dreaming: Controlling the stories of sleep

Have you ever started dreaming and suddenly realized that you were in a dream? Have you ever managed to gain control over your dream narrative? If your answer to these is “yes,” you’ve experienced what is called lucid dreaming.
dream image

What is lucid dreaming, and how can you achieve it?

Lucid dreaming has recently been popularized by movies such as Inception.

The movie features impressive dream artisans who are able not just to control the shape and content of their own dreams, but also those of others.

Such feats of dream manipulation may not seem possible to the same extent in our real lives, but they are not altogether absent.

In fact, certain people are able to experience something referred to as lucid dreaming, and some of them are able to control some of the elements of their nightly dreams.

In his much-cited poem, Edgar Allan Poe once wrote, “All that we see or seem/Is but a dream within a dream.”

Whether or not he is right is a matter for philosophers to debate, but the boundary between dream and reality is something that lucid dreaming seems to explore.

In this Spotlight, we look at what qualifies as lucid dreaming, whether these experiences can have any practical applications, and how one might be able to become a lucid dreamer.

What is lucid dreaming?

Typically, when we dream, we are not conscious that the dream is not real. As a character from the movie Inception quite aptly puts it, “Well, dreams, they feel real while we’re in them right? It’s only when we wake up then we realize that something was actually strange.”

However, some of us are able to enter a dream and be fully aware of the fact that we are actually dreaming.

“A lucid dream is defined as a dream during which dreamers, while dreaming, are aware they are dreaming,” specialists explain.

The very first record of lucid dreaming appears to feature in the treatise On Dreams by the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. In it, he describes an instance of self-awareness during a dream state.

“[If] the sleeper perceives that he is asleep, and is conscious of the sleeping state during which the perception comes before his mind, it presents itself still, but something within him speaks to this effect: ‘The image of Koriskos presents itself, but the real Koriskos is not present,'” he wrote.

It is unclear how many people actually experience lucid dreaming, though certain studies have tried to gather information regarding its prevalence; and it seems that this phenomenon may be quite common.

For instance, a study conducted in Brazil surveyed 3,427 participants with the median age of 25. The results of the survey indicated that 77 percent of the respondents had experienced lucid dreaming at least once.

When does it happen, and what is it like?

Like most dreams, lucid dreaming will typically occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. For some people, it occurs spontaneously. However, others train themselves to start dreaming lucidly, or to become better at it.

As one experienced lucid dreamer told Medical News Today:

[M]y lucid dreaming […] occurs when I’m waking up, or sometimes if I’ve woken up briefly and I’m going back to sleep. Nowadays I can pretty much do it on a whim, as long as I’m in that half-asleep half-awake process.”

The degree to which a person can influence their dream if they are lucid while dreaming also varies to a great extent. Some people may simply wake up immediately upon realizing that they had been dreaming.

Other people may be able to influence their own actions within the dream, or parts of the dream itself. The lucid dreamer who spoke to MNT told us that she was able to manipulate the dream narrative in order to create a pleasant experience for herself.

“Usually I can control the narrative in the dream, so for example if I’m unhappy with the way things are going in the dream, I can change it,” she explained.

What are its applications?

Lucid dreaming is certainly an attractive and fascinating prospect — being able to explore our own inner worlds with full awareness that we are in a dream state is intriguing and has an almost magical flavor about it.

silhouette on dark background

Lucid dreaming can help people get rid of their nightmares and resolve their fears.

However, can lucid dreaming have any practical applications?

Dr. Denholm Aspy, at the University of Adelaide in Australia, is a researcher who specializes in lucid dreaming.

He explained for MNT that this experience can actually be therapeutic.

Its main application, Dr. Aspy said, is to address nightmares — especially recurring nightmares, which may affect a person’s quality of life.

The practice of learning to lucid dream in order to stop nightmares from occurring or reoccurring, he explained, is called “lucid dreaming therapy.”

“If you can help someone who’s having nightmares to become lucid during that nightmare,” he explained to us, “then that gives them the ability to exert control over themselves or over the nightmare itself.”

[L]et’s say you’re being attacked by someone in a nightmare. You could try to talk to the attacker. You could ask them ‘why are you appearing in my dreams?’ or ‘what do you need to resolve this conflict with me?'”

Dr. Denholm Aspy

“Some people,” he added, “take on superpowers or special abilities, [so] they can fight back against the attacker. And then you can also try to escape, so things like flying away, or even doing techniques to deliberately wake up from the nightmare.”

Lucid dreaming also has the potential to help people with phobias, such as fear of flying or animal phobias including arachnophobia (the fear of spiders).

“If a person has a particular phobia, then their lucid dream environment […] provides an interesting opportunity to do things like exposure therapy, where you gradually expose yourself to the thing you’re afraid of, in an attempt to gradually overcome that fear,” Dr. Aspy said.

This is possible, he said, because dream environments can provide a realistic enough experience without it actually feeling unsafe. During lucid dreaming, the individual knows that they are not in the real world, so they may safely explore their fears without actually feeling threatened.

‘Lucid dreaming is a kind of creative activity’

At the same time, lucid dreaming is also attractive as an unusual means of entertainment — kind of like the immersive experience of virtual reality.

An experienced lucid dreamer might be able to “go on an adventure” and interact with people and things in a way that they may not be able to do in real life.

The lucid dreamer who spoke to MNT said that she thinks of the experience as something akin to storytelling, which makes her feel happier upon waking up:

Lucid dreaming for me is a kind of creative activity — I get to explore what my dreams are telling me a little bit versus what my conscious mind wants. It’s not got much use apart from just being interesting and it makes me happy usually […] I tend to wake up quite content.”

“I do lucid dreaming for fun,” she went on to say. “I enjoy it, and as someone who enjoys storytelling it’s a similar experience to writing a story or playing a video game. You get immersed in a narrative that involves you in some way.”

Techniques for lucid dreaming

There are many techniques that people who want to try and achieve lucid dreaming — or who want to perfect their lucid dreaming experiences — employ.

text on billboard

Text shifts in dreams, so you may become aware that you are dreaming by trying to reread it.

A study conducted by Dr. Aspy and colleagues last year tested the efficacy of three common techniques.

The first is known as “reality testing.” This might involve verifying whether you are dreaming both in real life and during a dream.

For instance, throughout the day, a person may want to ask themselves “am I dreaming right now?” as they pinch themselves, or try to make their hand pass through a solid wall.

This technique relies on intention. In reality the pinch will hurt, but in a dream it will not. In real life the wall will remain solid and impenetrable, while in a dream the hand will easily pass through.

Another “reality check” is rereading a line of text. In reality, if we read the text on a poster, for instance, it will stay the same when we reread it. In a dream, however, the text will constantly shift.

Conducting these experiments repeatedly throughout the day may make it easier to remember to conduct them during a dream state, thus allowing the dreamer to gain awareness of the dream.

Another technique is “waking back to bed,” and it requires setting an alarm to wake up the sleeper after about 5 or 6 hours of going to sleep.

Once awake, the person should aim to remain awake for a while, before going back to bed. This technique is supposed to immerse the sleeper immediately into REM, the phase of sleep during which they are more likely to experience a lucid dream.

Finally, lucid dreaming may eventually occur through “mnemonic induction.” Once more, this is a technique that requires intent and lots of practice.

With mnemonic induction, a person must repeat to themselves, just before going to bed, a phrase such as “tonight, I will notice that I am dreaming,” so as to “program” themselves to achieve in-dream lucidity.

Dream journals and meditation

It also appears that those who find it easier to lucid dream do not have much trouble recalling their dreams on a regular basis.

“When it comes to lucid dreaming, the strongest predictor of whether you have lucid dreams or not is how good you are at remembering your ordinary dreams,” Dr. Aspy explained.

Therefore, some people who are interested in exploring their dreams with full awareness may find it useful to keep a dream journal in which they record the dreams that they have each night in as much detail as possible.

The lucid dreamer that we interviewed corroborated this idea by noting that, for a long time, she used to enjoy writing down her dreams upon waking up.

Another practice that may aid lucid dreaming is meditation, or mindfulness, as it “trains” people to become more aware of themselves and their surroundings, in general.

“A lot of people are interested in meditation and mindfulness as a way to have lucid dreams,” Dr. Aspy mentioned, explaining, “The idea there is that if you’re more aware during the day, you’re more likely to notice that you’re dreaming while you’re asleep.”

Concerns and risks

One concern that people express about engaging in lucid dreaming, if they are able to achieve it, is that they may get “stuck” in a dream and find it more difficult to wake up.

However, Dr. Aspy explained to MNT that this is not a worrying risk; normally, an individual is only able to sleep — and dream — for a set amount of time every night, so it is unlikely that anyone would get “stuck” sleeping.

He told us, “The main reason for that is — pretty much no matter what you do you are only going to, on average, only have a certain amount of sleep and dreaming every night. There are some things that you can do to increase it a little bit, but you can’t really sustain that for very long.”

Another concern is that engaging in lucid dreaming requires focus and effort, which might mean that the sleeper does not get enough rest.

However, Dr. Aspy again reassured us, noting that the lucid dreamers with whom he has worked in the past have not reported more tiredness or poorer sleep quality as a result of lucid dreaming.

At the same time, in speaking to us, he also issued a warning to aspiring lucid dreamers:

I generally recommend that people don’t pursue lucid dreaming if they have certain mental health problems.”

One example is schizophrenia, which may cause people to be unable to distinguish between some of their thoughts or fears and real-life events. In some cases, Dr. Aspy noted, lucid dreaming may actually exacerbate the condition.

Lucid dreaming may be a fascinating, helpful, or pleasant experience, but you should still consider why you are interested in achieving it, and what you expect to get from it, before trying to experiment with dream states.

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Key Points In Family Planning And Maternity Health

  1. Meaning of Family Planning

Now, by definition family planning is the “practice of controlling the number of children one has and the intervals between their births, particularly by means of contraception or voluntary sterilization”.

Using family planning helps women and couples to decide for themselves when and how many children to have on their pace.

We (Health personnel) who provide family planning services caution women against having;

  • Children at a very young age (before the age of 20 years).
  • Children at an advanced age of over thirty-five (35) years.
  • Closely spaced births (sooner than twenty-four (24) months before each birth).
  • A large number of children (more than four (4).

By following this advice, maternal health and child survival are improved.

2. Services Offered to Men and Women in Family Planning #Clinics

At the family planning clinics, men and women receive:

A. Education and information on:

  • What family planning is and how it helps them and their families/partners.
  • The family planning methods which are available.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV and AIDS.
  • The causes of failure to have children and help to the couple who want a baby at times even a specific sex of the baby.

B. Family planning methods

  • Provision of family planning methods to men and women.

C. Medical History taking and examination

  • For sexually transmitted diseases.
  • For cancer of the breast.
  • For cancer of the mouth of the womb (cervix).
  • As of the care of women before starting to or continuing to use family planning methods.
  • For other medical, obstetric and gynecological problems.

D. Treatment and Referral For:

  • Any problems resulting from using family planning methods.
  • Sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Problems of failure to have babies (infertility).
  • Problems of women’s breasts or womb.
  • Problems resulting from menstrual periods or lack of them.

3. Health, Social And Other Benefits of Family Planning.

A. The good things about family planning to mothers.

When mothers use family planning methods space births, they:

  • Have enough time to recover from the effects of the previous pregnancy, labour, and delivery.
  • Are protected from anaemia.
  • Have tome to care for themselves, the children and the family.
  • Experience a reduction in the problems of pregnancies and labour – such as having the baby too early or heavy bleeding after delivery.
  • Are able to provide improved nutrition to the child and rest of the family.

B. The good things about family planning to children

Children also benefit from family planning through:

  • Prolonged breastfeeding which protects them from childhood illnesses, such as diarrhoea and promotes proper growth and development.
  • Improved parental and child-to-child relationships.
  • Opportunities for better education.

C. The goods things about family planning (FP) to fathers.

Fathers also benefit from  family planning. Famliy planning enables them to:

  • Plan together with their partners the size of the families they can afford to care for.
  • Gives them time to know or wait for the persons of their lives, whom they will tolerate loving for life.
  • Have the number of children they wish to have.

D. The goods things about family planning to the community.

The community also gains from FP in the way of improved quality of life of the people.

 

 

Common causes of hiccups.

Hiccups Quick Overview

Hiccups are brief and involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle.

Irritation of the nerves that extend from the neck to the chest can cause hiccups. Many conditions can cause this irritation and result in hiccups, including eating too fast and swallowing air, chewing gum, smoking, eating or drinking too much, strokes, brain tumors, damage to the vagus or phrenic nerve, some medications, noxious fumes, anxiety and stress, and in babies, hiccups may be associated with crying, coughing, or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

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Hiccups aren’t a worry normally, but if they become frequent, chronic, and persistent (lasting more than 3 hours), if they affect sleeping patterns, interfere with eating, cause reflux of food or vomiting, occur with severe abdominal pain, fever, shortness of breath, spitting up blood, or feeling as if the throat is going to close up, see a medical personnel.

There are many home solutions to heal hiccups, including holding your breath, drinking a glass of water quickly, having someone frighten or surprise you, using smelling salts, pulling hard on your tongue, and others.

For severe or chronic hiccups that are not cured with home treatment, medical treatments include medications, anesthesia to block the phrenic nerve, and surgical implantation of an electronic stimulator to the vagus nerve. Surgery to disable the phrenic nerve is a treatment of last resort.

The prognosis for hiccups is good. For most people, hiccups usually stop by themselves with no lingering effects. If hiccups continue, they may cause social embarrassment and distress, and chronic hiccups may result in speech, eating, and sleeping disorders.

What Are Hiccups?

Hiccups are sudden, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm muscle. As the muscle contracts repeatedly, the opening between the vocal cords snaps shut to check the inflow of air and makes the hiccup sound. Irritation of the nerves that extend from the neck to the chest can cause hiccups.

Although associated with a variety of ailments (some can be serious such as pneumonia or when harmful substances build up in the blood for example from kidney failure), hiccups are not serious and have no clear reason for occurring. Rarely, their presence causes health problems such as speech changes or interference with eating and sleeping.

What Causes Hiccups?

Many conditions are associated with hiccups, but none has been shown to be the cause of hiccups.

  • If a person eats too fast, he or she can swallow air along with food and end up with the hiccups.
  • Smoking or chewing gum also can cause a person to swallow air and get hiccups.
  • Any other practices that might irritate the diaphragm such as eating too much (especially fatty foods) or drinking too much (alcohol or carbonated drinks) can make a person prone to having hiccups.
  • In these instances, the stomach, which sits underneath and adjacent to the diaphragm, is distended or stretched. As they occur in relation to eating and drinking, hiccups are sometimes thought to be a reflex to protect a person from choking.
  • Strokes or brain tumors involving the brain stem, and some chronic medical disorders (such as renal failure) are reported to cause hiccups; trauma to the brain, meningitis, and encephalitis also may cause hiccups.
  • Damage to the vagus or phrenic nerve may cause hiccups to last a long time.
  • Problems with the liver, including swelling, infection, or masses can cause irritation of the diaphragm, which can cause hiccups.
  • Some medications that can cause acid reflux may also have hiccups as a side effect. Most benzodiazepines, including diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan) can cause hiccups. In addition, medications such levodopa (Larodopa), nicotine, and ondansetron (Zofran) can cause hiccups. Other medications that can cause hiccups include levodopa, methyldopa (Aldomet), nicotine, ondansetron (Zofran), barbiturates, opioid pain relievers, corticosteroids, anesthesia, or chemotherapy medications.
  • Noxious fumes can also trigger hiccup symptoms.
  • A baby may hiccup after crying or coughing. This is common in babies in the first year. In some instances, babies with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) could be more prone to hiccups.
  • Anxiety and stress can induce both short and long-term hiccups

What Are Symptoms of Hiccups?

Hiccups can be described as brief, irritable spasms of the diaphragm that can occur for a few seconds or minutes. They infrequently last longer in normal individuals without any underlying medical problem.

Which Types of Doctor Treats Hiccups?

Because hiccups are rarely a medical emergency, you will likely first consult your family practitioner or internist. Children may see their pediatrician.

In the case of an emergency as described above you may see an emergency medicine specialist in a hospital’s emergency department.

Other specialists who may be involved in treating hiccups include an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist, or ENT), a gastroenterologist (a specialist in the digestive tract), a neurologist (a specialist in the brain and nervous system), a pulmonologist (a lung specialist), or a psychologist.

When Should a Person Seek Medical Care for Hiccups?

A person should see a doctor if the hiccups become chronic and persistent (if they last more than 3 hours), or if they affect sleeping patterns, interfere with eating, or cause reflux of food or vomiting.

Hiccups is rarely a medical emergency. If hiccups last for more than 3 hours, occur with severe abdominal pain, fever, shortness of breath, vomiting, spitting up blood, or feeling as if the throat is going to close up, the person should seek medical attention.

How Is the Cause of Hiccups Diagnosed?

Diagnosis is based on physical evaluation. Laboratory testing is rarely necessary unless the hiccups are suspected to be a symptom of an associated medical condition. The tests to diagnose the associated medical condition will be done and tests will vary according to the associated condition.

How Do I Get Rid of the Hiccups?

There are a variety of home remedies to resolve hiccups, which include holding your breath to drinking a glass of water quickly. The common thread to most of these remedies is that carbon dioxide builds up in the blood or stimulating the vagus nerve will stop hiccups. Medical care is rarely needed to cure hiccups. If a person has hiccups for more than two days, they should seek medical care.

What Home Remedies Get Rid of the Hiccups?

Numerous home remedies to stop hiccups exist. The reason these remedies are thought to work is that carbon dioxide build-up in the blood will stop hiccups, which is what happens when a person holds their breath. Stimulation of the vagus nerve (the nerve that runs from the brain to the stomach) is stimulated, hiccups can also be alleviated (this is what is happening when a person drinks water or pulls on their tongue).

Try these methods at home to get rid of the hiccups:

  • Hold your breath.
  • Drink a glass of water quickly.
  • Have someone frighten you (or better, surprise) the person
  • Use smelling salts.
  • Have the person pull hard on their tongue.
  • Place one-half teaspoon of dry sugar on the back of the tongue. (Repeat this process 3 times at 2-minute intervals, if necessary use corn syrup, not sugar, in young children.)

There are many other suggestions to get rid of the hiccups such as “name 10 famous bald men;” “stick a finger in the ear;” tickling the palate with a swab; or swallowing a tablespoon full of honey (this distracts the person with the hiccups and may help the diaphragm relax). However, a person should only try those methods they are comfortable, and be aware that some methods are not suitable for infants (honey, sugar methods), elderly with swallowing problems, and others with health problems. Call your doctor for further information if individuals have any questions about home remedies or if they fail to stop the hiccups.

What Is the Medical Treatment for Hiccups?

Treatment for getting rid of the hiccups depends on how severe the hiccups are.

  • For the common hiccups that will usually stop on their own, home remedies are generally sufficient to cure the symptoms.
  • For more severe, persistent hiccups (usually lasting over to 2 days), the doctor may try medications to manage the patient’s hiccups. Chlorpromazine (Thorazine) is usually the first prescription medication tried for hiccups, although drugs such as baclofen (Lioresal) and medications for convulsions such as phenytoin (Dilantin) have also been successful.
  • Anesthesia to block the phrenic nerve and surgical implantation of an electronic stimulator to the vagus nerve has been effective. Surgery to disable the phrenic nerve (the nerve that controls the diaphragm) is often the treatment of last resort.

What Is the Outlook for a Person Who Has the Hiccups?

In healthy people, hiccups usually go away by themselves with no serious effects after that. If hiccups continue, however, they may cause social embarrassment and distress, and if prolonged may result in speech, eating, and sleeping disorders.

 

The cure of a hangover

A hangover is a collection of signs and symptoms linked to a recent bout of heavy drinking. A person with a hangover typically experiences a headache, feels sick, dizzy, sleepy, confused, and thirsty.

Hangovers can occur at any time of day, but are usually more common in the morning directly after a night of heavy drinking.

As well as physical symptoms, the person may experience elevated levels of anxiety, regret, shame, embarrassment, and depression. The severity of a hangover is closely linked to how much alcohol was consumed, and whether the sufferer had enough sleep; the less sleep, the worse the hangover.

It is impossible really to say how much alcohol can be safely consumed to avoid a hangover – it depends on the individual and other factors, such as how tired they were before they began drinking, whether they were already dehydrated before the drinking began, whether they drank plenty of water during their drinking session, and how much sleep they got afterward.

Fast facts on hangovers:

  • Hangovers are caused by overconsumption of alcohol.
  • Symptoms include headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, and fatigue.
  • The best method of prevention is to drink alcohol in moderation, or avoid it altogether.
  • The most effective cures are rest, rehydration, and sleep.

Cure

woman drinking whiskey

Unfortunately not. Symptoms can be alleviated by drinking water, replacing electrolytes in the body through food, and resting. In the vast majority of cases, hangovers go away after about 24 hours. Responsible drinking can help avoid hangovers.

There is no “treatment” for a hangover – the best way to avoid one is either not to drink, or to drink sensibly and within the recommended limits. Our article what is the best hangover cure? features some of the common myths and suggests some methods of prevention.

A hangover has to run its course, and that can be best done with rest, drinking plenty of water, perhaps some painkillers, and simply waiting.

Do not go for a “hair of the dog” – an alcoholic drink to get rid of a hangover. This is a myth, and will likely just prolong hangover symptoms.

The following tips may help:

Drink: Sip water throughout the day. Water is the best fluid.

Eating: Go for bland foods, such as crackers or bread, which may raise blood sugar and are easy on the stomach. Fructose-containing foods might help metabolize (break down and get rid of) the alcohol more rapidly.

Pain: Some people may take a painkiller. Be aware that certain painkillers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, paracetamol) attack the liver in high concentrations, while aspirin might not be ideal for a very delicate stomach. If you are not sure what to choose, ask a qualified pharmacist.

Rest: Sleep may help speed up recovery. Have some water next to the bed.

In short, you should not drink more than you know your body can handle.

Symptoms

woman with bloodshot eye

Bloodshot eyes are one of the most visible symptoms of a hangover.

The signs and symptoms of a hangover generally start to occur when the blood alcohol drops considerably.

Typically, this happens in the morning after a night of high alcohol consumption, and may include:

  • accelerated heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • bloodshot eyes
  • body and muscle aches
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • halitosis (bad breath)
  • headache
  • hypersalivation
  • flatulence
  • lethargy, tiredness, fatigue, listlessness
  • nausea
  • photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • problems focusing or concentrating
  • sensitivity to loud sounds
  • depression (dysphoria)
  • irritability
  • moodiness
  • stomachache
  • thirst
  • trembling or shakiness, erratic motor functions
  • vomiting

If the individual has the following more severe signs and symptoms when or after drinking, they may have alcohol poisoning. This is a medical emergency. Seek medical help as soon as possible if any of the following occur:

  • breathing loses its regular rhythm
  • breathing slows down to less than eight inhalations per minute
  • confusion or stupor – the drinker is in a daze
  • fits
  • the body temperature drops
  • passing out
  • the skin becomes pale, or takes on a blue tinge
  • vomiting continues and does not stop

The symptoms vary in severity, and some people may experience some more strongly than others.

Causes

A hangover is a consequence of having consumed too much alcohol, which causes several adverse effects:

Urination: Alcohol makes a person urinate more, which raises the chances of dehydration. Dehydration can give the individual that sensation of thirst and lightheadedness.

Immune system response: Alcohol may trigger an inflammatory response from the immune system. This can affect appetite, concentration, and memory.

Stomach irritation: Alcohol consumption raises the production of stomach acids; it also slows down the rate at which the stomach empties itself – this combination can lead to nausea, vomiting, or stomachache.

Drop in blood sugar: Some people’s blood sugar levels can fall steeply when they consume alcohol, resulting in shakiness, moodiness, tiredness, general weakness, and even seizures in some cases.

Dilation of blood vessels: Alcohol consumption can cause the blood vessels to dilate, which can cause headaches.

Sleep quality: Although sleeping when drunk is common, the quality of that sleep will often be poor. The individual may wake up tired and still sleepy.

Congeners: These are substances that are produced during fermentation and are responsible for most of the taste and aroma in distilled drinks (whisky or gin, for example). They are known to contribute to symptoms of a hangover. Examples of congeners include esters and aldehydes.

Toxic byproducts: Alcohol metabolism produces toxic substances that can cause many of the symptoms of hangovers.

The body processes alcohol at a certain rate. Consuming more alcohol before the body has had time to recover means the likelihood of a hangover increases.

Prevention

The easiest way to prevent a hangover is to moderate or avoid alcohol intake.

Drinking plenty of water alongside alcoholic beverages or consuming a late-night meal after a session of heavy drinking may also temper the hangover that may occur the following morning.

What to know about alcohol poisoning

A person has alcohol poisoning if they have consumed a toxic amount of alcohol, usually over a short period. Their blood alcohol level is so high it is considered toxic (poisonous).

The person can become extremely confused, unresponsive, disoriented, have shallow breathing, and can even pass out or go into a coma.

Alcohol poisoning can be life-threatening and usually requires urgent medical treatment.

Binge drinking is a common cause of alcohol poisoning. However, it can also occur if somebody intentionally or unintentionally drinks alcohol-containing household products (much less common).

Fast facts on alcohol poisoning

  • Alcohol poisoning is a serious condition.
  • Even when someone stops drinking, there is risk of alcohol poisoning for some time afterward.
  • Symptoms include confusion, abnormal breathing, and vomiting.
  • In severe cases, alcohol poisoning is life-threatening.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning

A man passed out in the street from alcohol consumption.

Alcohol poisoning can cause drinkers to lose consciousness when their blood alcohol concentration reaches a certain level.

Even when someone stops drinking, blood alcohol concentration (BAC) can continue to rise for 30-40 minutes, resulting in worsening symptoms.

The following signs and symptoms may indicate a progression from being drunk to alcohol poisoning:

  • confusion
  • hypothermia (the person’s body temperature drops)
  • pale skin, sometimes it may take on a bluish tinge
  • the individual is unresponsive but conscious (stupor)
  • the individual passes out
  • abnormal breathing – sometimes up to 10 seconds between breaths
  • very slow breathing
  • vomiting – potential to choke on vomit when confused

In serious cases:

  • breathing might stop completely
  • a heart attack may occur
  • there is a risk of choking on their own vomit – vomit might be inhaled into the lungs causing a serious infection
  • hypothermia
  • if the individual loses too much fluid (severe dehydration), there is a risk of brain damage
  • if blood glucose levels drop (hypoglycemia), they might develop seizures

If the alcohol poisoning is extreme, the patient can go into a coma and potentially die.

This article focuses on the medical aspects of alcohol poisoning, rather than other environmental dangers of alcohol abuse such as getting into fights, losing possessions, or having problems with the law.

Treatment for alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a significant medical condition. It requires immediate treatment if suspected.

If a person is thought to have alcohol poisoning, an ambulance should be called. Before the ambulance arrives, the following assistance should be given:

  • try to keep the individual awake
  • try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down – if they do lie down, turn their head to the side
  • if they can take it, give them water
  • if the person is unconscious, put them in the recovery position and check they are breathing
  • do not give them coffee; caffeine will worsen the dehydration
  • do not lie them on their back
  • do not give them any more alcohol to drink
  • do not make them walk

In the hospital, depending on the patient’s BAC level and severity of signs and symptoms, staff may just monitor them until their alcohol levels gradually drop. However, depending on the severity of symptoms, other treatments may include:

  • a tube inserted into their windpipe to help with breathing
  • an intravenous drip to manage hydration, blood glucose, and vitamin levels
  • a urinary catheter if they become incontinent
  • in some cases, the patient’s stomach may be pumped – fluids are flushed through a tube that goes down their mouth or nose

If the person – who may sometimes be a child – has unintentionally drunk methanol or isopropyl alcohol and has alcohol poisoning they may need dialysis to speed up the removal of toxins from their system.

What causes alcohol poisoning?

A group of young people drinking together

College drinkers are statistically the most at risk of alcohol poisoning.

When somebody consumes an alcoholic drink, their liver has to filter out the alcohol, a toxin, from their blood.

We absorb alcohol much more quickly than food – alcohol gets to our bloodstream much faster.

However, the liver can only process a limited amount of alcohol; approximately one standard drink of alcohol every hour.

If a person drinks two in 1 hour, there will be an extra drink’s worth of alcohol in the bloodstream. If during the next hour, the person consumes another two drinks, they will have two standard drink’s worth of alcohol floating around in their bloodstream 2 hours after the drinking session.

The faster someone drinks, the higher the BAC becomes. Rapid drinking can bring BAC so high that mental and physical functions are negatively affected. If BAC is high enough, physical functions such as breathing and the gag reflex (that prevents people from choking) can be affected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are “2,200 alcohol poisoning deaths in the United States each year – an average of six alcohol poisoning deaths every day.”

Those at highest risk of suffering from alcohol poisoning are college students, chronic alcoholics, and those taking medications that clash with alcohol.

Recovery from alcohol poisoning

During recovery from alcohol posioning, the individual may experience:

  • headache
  • somach cramps
  • nausea
  • anxiety
  • tremors

It is important to keep hydrated and avoid drinking any alcohol.

What effects does alcohol have on health?

Alcohol is the intoxicating ingredient that is present in wine, beer, and spirits. It is a depressant, which means that when it reaches the brain, it slows down the body’s systems.

It can also be difficult for the body to process, putting extra pressure on the liver, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, and other functions.

Alcohol is a legal recreational substance for adults and one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States. People consume alcohol to socialize, to relax, and to celebrate.

It is commonly misused among individuals of all ages, resulting in significant health, legal, and socio-economic damage.

In 2017, around half of all Americans aged over 18 years had consumed alcohol in the last month. Just over 9 percent of those aged 12 to 17 years had done so.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 15.1 million people aged 18 years and over in the U.S. had alcohol use disorder (AUD), or 6.2 percent of this age group.

Fast facts about alcohol

  • Pure alcohol is a colorless, odorless, and flammable liquid.
  • Fruits and grains are the foods most commonly used foods to make alcohol.
  • Alcohol is the number one abused drug by minors in the U.S.
  • The liver can only oxidize about one drink per hour.
  • Alcohol is known to be harmful to developing brains, from before birth to adolescence.
  • No amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe during pregnancy.
  • Combined with other medications, whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescribed, alcohol’s effects can be deadly.

Short-term effects

moderate drinking

One to two drinks can make you feel relaxed.

Within minutes of consuming alcohol, it is absorbed into the bloodstream by blood vessels in the stomach lining and small intestine.

It then travels to the brain, where it quickly produces its effects.

The short-term effects of alcohol depend on:

  • how much is consumed
  • how quickly
  • the weight, sex, and body fat percentage of the individual
  • whether or not they have eaten

Drinking with a meal slows the rate of absorption, resulting in fewer side effects and less intoxication.

Signs of intoxication

At first, the person may feel relaxed, uninhibited, or giddy. As they consume more alcohol, intoxication may result.

Other signs of intoxication include:

  • slurred speech
  • clumsiness and unsteady gait
  • drowsiness
  • vomiting
  • headache
  • distortion of senses and perception
  • loss of consciousness
  • lapses in memory

How much alcohol?

One drink is the equivalent of:

  • 12 ounces of beer that is around 5 percent alcohol, depending on the type
  • 5 ounces of wine that is around 12 percent alcohol
  • 1.5-ounces of spirits, or a “shot,” at about 40 percent alcohol
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor, at around 7 percent alcohol

In other words, these servings all contain the same amount of alcohol: 0.6 ounces.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. It is expressed as the weight of ethanol in grams per 100 milliliter (ml) of blood.

The University of West Virginia suggests that a person may experience the following, depending on individual factors:

Number of drinks BAC Effect
1-2 Up to 0.05 The person feels relaxed, less inhibited, with a slower reaction time and reduced alertness.
3-4 0.05 to 0.10 Fine motor skills, reaction time, and judgment are reduced.
5-7 0.10-0.15 Vision, perception, reaction times, and judgment are affected; the person may become argumentative or emotionally irrational.
8-10 0.15-0.30 The person may stagger, speech become slurred, and vision blurred. Motor skills are severely affected, and the person may vomit or feel nauseated.
Over 10 0.30 and above The person may lose consciousness or be conscious but unaware of what is happening. Breathing rate is slow.

The body absorbs alcohol relatively quickly, but it takes longer to get the alcohol out of the body. The liver needs about 1 hour to process one drink. Consuming several drinks in a short time causes the alcohol builds up in the body. This puts the body’s systems under pressure. It can lead to illness and, in severe cases, death.

Alcohol toxicity

After 8 to 9 drinks, vision becomes blurred and the person is likely to feel nauseated.

It also increases the risk of blackouts, especially on an empty stomach. During this time, a person may do things that they do not remember later.

Binge drinking is defined as drinking within 2 hours:

  • Five or more drinks for a man
  • Four or more drinks for a woman

This is because women and men metabolize alcohol differently.

Intoxication impairs judgment and can result in inappropriate and illegal behaviors such as sexual promiscuity, disorderly conduct, driving while intoxicated and acts of violence.

In 2014, 31 percent of all driving fatalities in the U.S. were alcohol-related.

Alcohol toxicity

When the amount of alcohol in the blood exceeds a certain level, this can lead to alcohol toxicity, or poisoning. This is a dangerous condition.

Since alcohol is a depressant, it can slow the breathing, leading to a lack of oxygen to the brain.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • vomiting
  • seizures
  • slow breathing
  • blue tint to the skin
  • low body temperature
  • loss of consciousness
  • coma

If blood alcohol concentration is higher than 0.4, there is a 50 percent chance of death.

Alcohol intolerance

Some people will feel unwell immediately after drinking alcohol. They may have an intolerance, insensitivity, or allergy to alcohol or another ingredient in a drink.

Symptoms include:

  • facial flushing
  • nausea and vomiting
  • worsening of asthma
  • diarrhea
  • low blood pressure

Alcohol intolerance can be a sign of Hodgkin lymphoma. Anyone who suddenly develops an intolerance may be advised to see a doctor, in case there is an underlying condition.

Combining alcohol with other depressant-type medications—whether over-the-counter preparations, prescription, or recreational drugs—can have serious effects on the respiratory and central nervous systems.

It is especially dangerous to mix alcohol with GHB, rohypnol, ketamine, tranquilizers, and sleeping pills.

Hangover

After drinking too much in an evening, a person may continue to feel the effects of the alcohol on waking up, with what is commonly called a “hangover.”

This is because alcohol is toxic to the body, and the body is still working to get rid of the toxin.

Many of the symptoms are caused by dehydration, but some chemicals in alcoholic drinks can cause a reaction in the blood vessels and the brain that make symptoms worse.

Symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • racing heart
  • dry mouth and eyes
  • difficulty concentrating
  • restlessness

Around 20 percent of alcohol is absorbed through the stomach. Most of the remaining 80 percent is absorbed through the small intestine. Around 5 percent of the alcohol consumed leaves through the lungs, kidneys and the skin. The liver removes the rest.

Since the liver can only process the equivalent of one drink at a time, the body may remain saturated with the alcohol that has not yet left the body.

It can take from 2 to 3 hours for the body to metabolize alcohol from one to two drinks, and up to 24 hours to process the alcohol from eight to ten drinks.

A hangover can last up to 24 hours. Doctors advise not drinking again within 48 hours of a heavy drinking session, to allow the body to recover.

Long-term effects

Alcohol contributes to over 200 diseases and injury-related health conditions including dependence and addiction, liver cirrhosis, cancers, and unintentional injuries such as motor vehicle accidents, falls, burns, assaults, and drowning.

Around 88,000 people in the U.S die from alcohol-related causes every year. This makes it the third leading preventable cause of death.

Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with the following health problems:

alcohol and depression

Drinking too much too often can lead to depression.

  • liver disease
  • pancreatitis
  • cardiomyopathy, or damage to the heart muscle
  • other cardiovascular problems
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • stomach ulcers
  • cancer
  • immune system dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • brain and nerve damage
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • mental health problems such as anxiety and depression

Alcohol affects every body system, so it can cause health problems throughout the body.

Research shows that women who drink more alcohol than is recommended on a regular basis tend to develop liver disease, cardiomyopathy and nerve damage after fewer years than men who do the same.

Of major concern is the number of young people who consume alcohol. Research suggests that 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for AUD, and the condition affects some 623,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 years.

Alcohol can have a serious effect on the developing brain, from fetal development to the end of adolescence. If a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy, the child may be born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). In 2015, this was believed to affect between 2 and 7 newborns in every 1,000.

Symptoms can be similar to those of ADHD.

Addiction and withdrawal

If a person consumes large amounts of alcohol regularly, their tolerance can increase, and the body requires more alcohol to achieve the desired effect.

As the body adapts to the presence of the drug, dependency and addiction can result. If consumption stops suddenly, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is a disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and continued use despite a negative impact on health, interpersonal relationships, and ability to work. If the person stops drinking, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of withdrawal generally occur between 4 and 72 hours after the last drink or after reducing intake. They peak at about 48 hours and may last up to 5 days.

They may include:

  • mild tremors
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood

Many people will take a drink to stop the discomfort of withdrawal.

In more severe cases, the person may experience Delirium tremens, or “the DTs.”

This condition involves:

  • body tremors (shaking)
  • hallucinations or changes in mental status
  • confusion
  • extreme sleepiness
  • seizures that can result in death

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency. Anyone with an alcohol dependency disorder who desires to stop drinking should seek professional medical care or a treatment center specializing in safe alcohol detoxification.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder

The treatment of alcohol dependency involves a variety of interventions, and it requires medical, social, and family support.

Strategies include:

  • individual and group counseling
  • medication, such as disulfiram (Antabuse), naltrexone and acamprosate (Campral)
  • participation in support networks such as Alcoholics Anonymous
  • A detoxification program in a hospital or medical facility is another option for those who need a higher level of care.

Contacts for help

If anyone who is concerned about their own or a loved one’s drinking habits, they can call or contact the following organizations for confidential help:

  • Alcohol and Drug Helpline: 800-527-5344
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.: 800-622-2255
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Making screening part of regular health visits can help with making an early diagnosis.

How binge drinking alters brain activity

Earlier studies showed that alcoholic people have measurable changes in their resting brain activity. And now, for the first time, researchers find similar changes in the brains of non-alcoholic students who binge drink.
Binge drinking students

Researchers uncover changes in brain activity associated with binge drinking.

Alcoholic beverages are consumed worldwide, but drinking to excess and with regularity carries a number of health warnings.

Binge drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women over a 2-hour period.

There is a range of long-term health risks associated with binge drinking, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and liver disease.

Aside from negative health outcomes, binge drinking also increases the risk of unintentional injuries, risky sexual behavior, and being involved in violence.

An estimated 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge drinks four times every month, consuming an average of eight drinks per session. It is most common in young adulthood but can continue across the lifespan.

Previous studies have also shown that, during cognitive tasks, individuals who binge drink perform significantly worse. For example, spatial working memory and executive function have both been found to suffer.

To date, however, researchers have not investigated whether or not there are measurable changes in a binge drinker’s brain at rest.

The binge drinker’s brain

Researchers from the University of Minho in Portugal – led by Eduardo López-Caneda – set out to investigate measurable differences in the brains of binge drinkers when not carrying out tests. Their findings are published this week in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

As López-Caneda explains, “A number of studies have assessed the effects of binge drinking in young adults during different tasks involving cognitive processes such as attention or working memory. However, there are hardly any studies assessing if the brains of binge drinkers show differences when they are at rest, and not focused on a task.”

Students are well known for spending time socializing and partying – activities that are sometimes accompanied by alcohol in excess. So, the researchers recruited 80 first-year undergraduate students from a university in Spain.

Participants were split into two groups: the first never indulged in binge drinking, while those in the second had indulged in a binge drinking session at least once in the previous month. Importantly, none met the criteria to be considered an alcoholic.

Electrodes were attached to the participants’ heads to assess electrical activity across a number of brain regions.

Non-bingers’ and bingers’ brains compared

When the neural activity of the two groups was compared, there were significant differences. More specifically, there was a measurable increase in beta and theta oscillations in the right temporal lobe – particularly the parahippocampal and fusiform gyri – and the occipital cortex.

The parahippocampal gyrus is believed to play a part in coding and retrieving memories. The fusiform gyrus does not have a well-defined role to date but seems to be involved in recognition. The occipital cortex deals with processing visual information.

Interestingly, the increased activity in these areas mirrors those found in the brains of chronic alcoholics.

The researchers believe that the alterations in brain activity might be early signs of alcohol-induced brain damage. Changes in these regions may indicate a reduction in their ability to respond to external stimuli, which may hamper information processing.

Younger brains are still developing, and the researchers believe that this might make them more vulnerable to alcohol damage.

These features might be down to the particularly harmful effects of alcohol on young brains that are still in development, perhaps by delaying neuromaturational processes.”

Eduardo López-Caneda

Of course, this study opens up many new questions to be answered. So next, the team would like to confirm that the changes are down to the binge drinking and whether or not brain development is impaired over the long-term.

Because the changes seen in the brain mirror those found in chronic alcoholics, López-Caneda hopes that their findings will be used “to try to reduce alcohol consumption in risky drinkers” at a young age.

How do dreams affect brain disorders?

Research presented at the latest Canadian Neuroscience Meeting connects fascinating insights into the science of dreams with the risk of developing neurological disorders.

[woman dreaming]

Scientists examine what goes on inside our brains when we dream and find surprising connections with neurodegenerative disorders.

Research presented at the 2017 annual gathering of the Canadian Association for Neuroscience, held in Montreal, investigates what goes on inside our brains when we dream. Surprisingly, the research also suggests that dream dysfunctions may predict the development of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or dementia.

The research was conducted by Dr. John Peever and his team at the University of Toronto in Canada in 2015.

Dr. Peever and colleagues have previously studied how dreams occur and discovered the brain cells that are responsible for reaching the dream state: the so-called REM-active neurons.

How do we dream?

Since the 1960s, scientists have known that dreaming occurs during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and that the brainstem is a key brain region responsible for controlling dreams.

The brainstem is located at the base of the brain, and it communicates with the hypothalamus to transition from wakefulness to sleep, and vice versa. A chain reaction started by REM-active “SubC” neurons ultimately releases the GABA neurotransmitter, which, in turn, reduces the level of arousal in the hypothalamus and the brainstem. SubC neurons take their name from the brain area in which they are found: the subcoeruleus nucleus.

These brain cells that produce GABA, or GABAergic neurons, control the timing of REM sleep and its features, such as muscle paralysis. As Dr. Peever explains, “When we switch on these cells, it causes a rapid transition into REM sleep.” The brainstem sends signals to relax muscles and limbs so that we do not do in real life what we dream about while asleep.

Knowing all of this, Dr. Peever and colleagues set out to examine dreaming disorders such as cataplexy, narcolepsy, and REM sleep behavior disorder.

People with narcolepsy do not just fall asleep instantly, but they also experience cataplexy, which is the sudden loss of muscle tone while they are awake.

REM sleep disorders linked to neurodegenerative conditions

While examining the breakdowns in the brain circuits that cause these disorders, the team made an interesting discovery.

They found that REM sleep disorders are linked to several neurodegenerative diseases that tend to occur in old age. “This link suggests that neurodegenerative processes initially target the circuits controlling REM sleep and specifically SubC neurons,” write Dr. Peever and colleagues in their 2015 paper.

We observed that more than 80 percent of people who suffer from REM sleep disorder eventually develop synucleinopathies, such as Parkinson’s disease, and Lewy body dementia. Our research suggests sleep disorders may be an early warning sign for diseases that may appear some 15 years later in life.”

Dr. John Peever

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimate that approximately 50,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year, and around half a million people live with the disease. Lewy body dementia affects another 1 million U.S. adults.

Both Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia are characterized by a buildup of a neuronal protein called alpha-synuclein inside the neurons.

In the future, Dr. Peever hopes that his research will pave the way for neuroprotective therapies that would prevent against the development of such neurodegenerative disorders.

“Much like we see in people prone to cancer, diagnosing REM disorders may allow us to provide individuals with preventative actions to keep them healthy long before they develop these more serious neurological conditions,” Dr. Peever says.

Action video games decrease gray matter, study finds

A new study suggests that playing action video games can be detrimental to the brain, reducing the amount of gray matter in the hippocampus. Specialists should exert caution in advising video gameplay to improve cognition, the study authors urge.
girl playing action video game

Researchers find that playing action video games can lead to hippocampal atrophy.

The impact of video games on our health and well-being has often been studied and discussed, and it is still a very controversial topic. According to the Entertainment Software Association, at least one person in 63 percent of households across the United States plays video games for at least 3 hours per week, making gaming one of the most popular leisure activities.

A new study led by researchers from the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal, and from the Douglas Institute in Québec, both in Canada, has now found that action video games, specifically, have a direct negative effect on the brain.

Lead study author Dr. Gregory West, an assistant professor at the Université de Montréal, has published the team’s findings in the current issue of Molecular Psychiatry.

Action games’ effect on brain

The current study stems from two considerations. First, the researchers noted that action video games – which are defined as “first- and third-person shooting games” – are sometimes recommended by specialists to increase the visual attention of children and adults.

Secondly, according to previous research conducted by Dr. West, action video game players employ a particular kind of navigational strategy called “response learning,” which is based on forming a navigational “habit” and relying on it.

Response learning is also associated with a decrease in the gray matter of the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain linked to episodic memory and orientation. A low amount of gray matter in this brain area is related to Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In looking at the effects of action video games on the hippocampus, Dr. West and his colleagues also took into account any links with the striatum, which is a brain area that receives signals from the hippocampus.

The striatum also contains the caudate nucleus, which plays an important role in the formation of habits and procedural memory – that is, the kind of memory that we rely on to know how to walk, swim, or ride a bicycle.

According to existing research, Dr. West and his colleagues note that “the caudate nucleus shares an inverse relationship with the hippocampus.”

This means that if we rely too much on habit and procedural memory, we end up underusing the active learning capacities promoted by the hippocampus. This may cause the hippocampus to atrophy, leading to an unhealthy brain structure overall.

That’s why we decided to do a full neuro-imaging study, […] and what we saw was less gray matter in the hippocampus of habitual players. We then followed that up with two longitudinal studies to establish causality, and we found that it was indeed the gaming that led to changes in the brain.”

Dr. Gregory West

Fifty-one male and 46 female gamers were recruited for the current research and were eventually tasked with playing either action video games – which, in this case, were shooter games such as Call of Duty – or 3-D platform video games from the Super Mario series.

Response learners lose gray matter

The participants were first tested to see whether they were “spatial learners,” relying on visual clues and landmarks to make their way through a particular environment, or “response learners,” relying on acquired habits to navigate. Spatial learners have a more active hippocampus, whereas response learners tend to underuse it.

For this test, the researchers developed a “4 on 8 virtual maze,” which is a task that encourages the players to come up with a navigational strategy that links to either the hippocampus or the caudate nucleus.

“The virtual reality task consists of an eight-arm radial maze situated in an enriched environment. The environment contains both distal [far from the player’s perspective] and proximal [close to the player’s perspective] landmarks: two trees, a rock, and mountains,” the researchers explain.

After establishing which players were response learners and which were spatial learners, the researchers asked them to play the action and 3-D platform video games.

It was found that the same amount of time (90 hours) dedicated to gaming had different effects depending on the kind of game that was involved: action games led to hippocampal atrophy, whereas platform games increased the volume of gray matter.

The researchers believe that response learners might be able to increase their gray matter volume by “be[ing] encouraged to use spatial strategies” instead. Dr. West and his colleagues also suggest that game developers might even be able to prevent action games from leading to the atrophy of the hippocampus by changing the games’ design.

Action games, they say, “[…] often include an overlaid head-up display which displays an in-game GPS [global positioning system] to direct players to their next location or event,” discouraging players from actively employing spatial strategies. Without this, the researchers suggest, the games’ negative effect on the brain might be avoided.

Considering these findings, Dr. West and his colleagues advise caution in “prescribing” action video games to young players, as they might end up doing more harm than good. However, the researchers suggest that game training must be adapted to the necessities of the individuals involved.

“For example,” they say, “patients with Parkinson’s disease who also present with dementia and patients with Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder” should not be exposed to action video games, as they already have lower volumes of gray matter.

“In contrast,” the researchers add, “patients with Parkinson’s disease without dementia do display dysfunction in the basal ganglia, and may benefit from action video game training.”

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