Dependence on sleeping pills is widespread, survey finds

The Baltimore Sun

Too many people rely on sleeping pills and use them for too long, according to the September edition of Consumer Reports.

A nationwide survey by the magazine in April found that 44 percent of Americans are problem sleepers, meaning they have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep or wake up too early at least eight nights per month.

The survey of 1,466 adults, conducted by the magazine's National Research Center, also found that almost one in five Americans took prescription or over-the-counter drugs at least once a week to help them sleep, and 24 percent became dependent on the medication they used.

Last year, 24 million prescriptions were written for the four top-selling sleep drugs, according to the report.

A parallel survey analyzing the experiences of 2,021 problem sleepers found sound machines to be a viable alternative to drugs, with 70 percent of those who tried them saying they helped most nights. Such machines make noises that range from basic static to the sounds of a rain forest.

The magazine report also suggested alternatives to drugs, such as muscle relaxation, changing mattresses, avoiding food and alcohol before bedtime, and keeping steady times to rise and sleep.

Cox News Service


Human yawns appear to be contagious to dogs

If you're yawning, chances are your dog is about to do the same thing.

A study published in the journal Biology Letters last week found that human yawns are contagious to dogs, a sign that man's best friend might be capable of a rudimentary form of empathy.

To scientists, dogs have been a puzzle. Dogs are adept at reading human intentions and excel over other animals in picking up human hand gestures and other behavioral cues. At the same time, they appear to lack a sense of self, considered a prerequisite for understanding the feelings of others.

Unlike chimpanzees and possibly elephants and dolphins, dogs do not recognize themselves in a mirror, a classic test of self-awareness.

The latest study demonstrates that dogs possess "some low-level attending to what others feel," said Duke University anthropologist Brian Hare, who was not involved in the research.

"What's fascinating about this study is that you would not expect to find contagious yawning where you did not have self-awareness," he said.

Only humans and chimps are known to yawn contagiously.

Each of the 29 dogs watched a researcher perform a large yawn and then, in the control portion of the experiment, watched the same researcher merely open his mouth.

Twenty-one of the 29 dogs yawned after watching the researcher yawn - higher than the rates reported in humans or chimps. No dogs yawned during the control test.

Los Angeles Times


Heavy alcohol use might affect genders differently

Heavy drinking may protect men from heart disease, but the effect in women is less clear, a Japanese study in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke found.

Men who consumed four or more alcoholic drinks a day lowered the risk of dying from heart disease by 19 percent, while women drinking the same amount quadrupled their risk, the study, led by Hiroyasu Iso, professor at Osaka University, found. The risk of stroke increased in both men and women.

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack, stroke and hypertension, is the biggest cause of death, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO estimates 20 million people may die from heart disease every year by 2015, compared with about 17.5 million, or 30 percent of global death, a decade year earlier. The protective benefit likely comes from the increase in so-called good cholesterol that's linked to alcohol, Iso said.

"Alcohol increases the level of good cholesterol, known as HDL, and inhibits arterial sclerosis and platelets from clotting, and reduces the risks of getting heart disease, while it surges the blood pressure in heavy drinking," Iso said in a telephone interview. "The results show benefit from taking alcohol exceeded the harm in men."

The study, funded by Japan's Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, analyzed 34,776 men and 48,906 women ages 40 to 79 over 14 years. In that time, 736 people died from heart disease and 1,628 from stroke, it said.

Iso said the study might not have been able to detect a protective effect in women because researchers didn't have enough data from heavy drinkers. Only 15 percent of women in the study had any liquor, wine or beer.

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