Forgiveness and Happiness Researcher Fred Luskin Says Turn Off Your Smartphone If You Want to be Happy

Earlier this year I had the good fortune to spend several morning hours listening to Stanford professor and researcher Fred Luskin talk about happiness. Dr. Luskin is a psychologist who has done groundbreaking research on forgiveness over many years. He’s the author of many books, and frequently lectures about forgiveness. I often recommend his book Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness to clients suffering from anger and hurt.

But this morning he was discussing happiness. He came into the room with no pretense. His hair was wild and curly, partly dark and partly gray. He was wearing a puffy black down jacket, a T-shirt, running tights, and sneakers. Clearly a man comfortable with himself, and not trying to impress.

He started off by doing something quite outrageous. He asked the audience of 30 people to turn off their cell phones. Not to lower the volume, or turn off the ringers, but to actually shut down their cell phones. This clearly caused some discomfort among the audience. He explained that the reason he wanted people to turn off their cell phones is so that they would truly focus on the present and to listening to him. He cited a statistic that people check email on average 79 times a day. Each time they check their email they get a burst of adrenaline and stress. Clearly this is not conducive to genuine happiness.

He pointed out that you can’t really be happy unless you can sit still and relax. “We are all descended from anxious monkeys,” he said, and clearly most of us do not know how to sit still and relax. “Happiness is the state of ‘enough’ “, he said, “and is not consistent with wanting more.”

He pointed out that wanting what you have equals being happy. And that wanting something else than what you have equals stress.

He talked about the beginnings of his career, when clinical psychology was focused on unhappiness and problems. There was no science of happiness. Now there is a huge area of research and writing on happiness called Positive Psychology.

He shared some simple techniques for enhancing happiness. One simple technique revolved around food. When you’re eating don’t multitask. Give thanks for the food, and really focus on tasting and savoring that food. One technique I have often used is to close my eyes while I savor food, which greatly intensifies the taste.

Another simple practice is whenever you are outside, take a few moments to feel the wind or sun on your skin.

He also talked about phones and how we use them. We are completely addicted to the little bursts of dopamine and adrenaline that we get each time we check our email or we get a text. And rather than be present in most situations, we simply look at our phones. Go to any outdoor cafe and look at people who are sitting alone. Most of them are looking at their phones rather than experiencing the surroundings or interacting with other people. Even sadder, look at people who are with others, either at a cafe, or a restaurant. Much of the time they too are lost in their smartphones.

He discussed how happiness is not correlated with achievement. Nor is it correlated with money once you have an adequate amount to cover basic needs. What happiness seems to be most correlated with is relationships. If you like yourself and connect with other people you will tend to be happy.

He reviewed  the relationship between impatience, anger, frustration, judgment and happiness. He pointed out that whenever we are impatient or in a hurry all of our worst emotions tend to come out. When someone drives slowly in front of us we get annoyed. When someone takes too much time in the checkout line ahead of us, we get angry.

I really liked his discussion of grocery stores. He pointed out what an incredible miracle a modern American grocery store really is. The variety of delicious foods that we can buy for a relatively small amount of money is truly staggering. But instead of appreciating this, we focus on the slow person in the line ahead of us, or the person who has 16 items in the 15 item express line. What a shame!

He pointed out we have a choice of what we focus on, and this choice greatly influences our happiness. We all have a choice to focus on what’s wrong with our lives, or what’s right with our lives. And we have a choice of whether to focus on how other people have treated us poorly, or how other people have treated us well. These choices of focus will determine how we feel.

We also have the choice of focusing on what we already have, or focusing on what we do not have and aspire to have. For instance, let’s imagine that you are currently living in a rental apartment. The apartment is quite nice, although there are things that could be better. The kitchen could be bigger, and the tile in the bathroom could be prettier.

Perhaps you imagine owning a house, and you feel badly about renting an apartment. Rarely do we appreciate what we have. Having a place to live is clearly infinitely better than being homeless. And even a flawed apartment is still home.

All of us need to work on learning to emphasize generosity, awe, and gratitude in our lives if we want to be happy. Generosity means kindness and acceptance in contrast to anger and judgment. Awe is the ability to be astounded by the wonder and beauty in the world. Gratitude is appreciation for all the good things in your own life and in the world.

He cited one interesting study where researchers observed a traffic crosswalk. They found that the more expensive cars were less likely to stop for people in the crosswalks. Thus wealth often correlates with a lack of generosity and a higher level of hostility. Other data shows that there is very little correlation between wealth and charitable giving, with much of the charitable giving in the USA coming from those of modest means.

He also talked about secular changes in our society. He quoted a statistic that empathy is down 40% since the 1970’s. At the same time narcissism has increased by roughly 40%. This has a huge negative impact on relationships.

I was impressed by this simple but profound message of Dr. Luskin’s talk. Slow down, smell the roses, turn off your phone, focus on relationships, appreciate what you have, and become happier.

It’s a simple message, but hard to actually do.

I’m off to go for a hike in the hills, without my phone!

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How Reporters Screw up Health and Medical Reporting (and How You Can Catch Them Doing So)

I’ve written before about common mistakes in interpreting medical research in my blog post How to Read Media Coverage of Scientific Research: Sorting out the Stupid Science from Smart Science. I recently read a very interesting post by Gary Schwitzer about the most common mistakes that journalists make when reporting health and medical findings.

The three mistakes that he discusses:

 1.      Absolute versus relative risk/benefit data

“Many stories use relative risk reduction or benefit estimates without providing  the absolute data. So, in other words, a drug is said to reduce the risk of hip fracture by 50% (relative risk reduction), without ever explaining that it’s a reduction from 2 fractures in 100 untreated women down to 1 fracture in 100 treated women. Yes, that’s 50%, but in order to understand the true scope of the potential benefit, people need to know that it’s only a 1% absolute risk reduction (and that all the other 99 who didn’t benefit still had to pay and still ran the risk of side effects).

2.      Association does not equal causation

A second key observation is that journalists often fail to explain the inherent limitations in observational studies – especially that they cannot establish cause and effect. They can point to a strong statistical association but they can’t prove that A causes B, or that if you do A you’ll be protected from B. But over and over we see news stories suggesting causal links. They use active verbs in inaccurately suggesting established benefits.

3.      How we discuss screening tests

The third recurring problem I see in health news stories involves screening tests. … “Screening,” I believe, should only be used to refer to looking for problems in people who don’t have signs or symptoms or a family history. So it’s like going into Yankee Stadium filled with 50,000 people about whom you know very little and looking for disease in all of them. … I have heard women with breast cancer argue, for example, that mammograms saved their lives because they were found to have cancer just as their mothers did. I think that using “screening” in this context distorts the discussion because such a woman was obviously at higher risk because of her family history. She’s not just one of the 50,000 in the general population in the stadium. There were special reasons to look more closely in her. There may not be reasons to look more closely in the 49,999 others.”

Let’s discuss each of these in a little bit more depth. The first mistake is probably the most common one, where statistically significant findings are not put into clinical perspective. Let me explain. Suppose we are looking at a drug that prevents a rare illness. The base rate of this illness, which we will call Catachexia is 4 in 10,000 people. The drug reduces this illness to one in 10,000 people, a 75% decrease. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast. Let me add a few facts to this hypothetical case. Let’s imagine that the drug costs $10,000 a year, and also has some bad side effects. So in order to reduce the incidence from four people to one person in ten thousand, 9996 people who would never develop this rare but serious illness must be treated. The cost of doing so would be $99,960,000! Plus those 9996 people would be unnecessarily exposed to side effects.

So which headline sounds better to you?

New Drug Prevents 75% of Catachexia Cases!

Or

New Drug Lowers the Prevalence of Catachexia Cases by Three People per 10,000, at a Cost of Almost $100 Million Dollars

The first headline reflects a reporting of the relative risk reduction, without cost data, and the second headline reflects the absolute risk reduction, and the costs. The second headline is the only one that should be reported but unfortunately the first headline is much more typical in science and medical reporting.

The second error where association or correlation does not equal causation is terribly common as well. The best example of this is all of the studies looking at the health effects of coffee. Almost every week we get a different study that claims either a health benefit of coffee or a negative health impact of coffee. These findings are typically reported in the active tense such as, “drinking coffee makes you smarter.”

So which headline sounds better to you?

Drinking Coffee Makes You Smarter

Or

Smarter People Drink More Coffee

Or

Scientists Find a Relatively Weak Association between Intelligence Levels and Coffee Consumption

Of course the first headline is the one that will get reported, even though the second headline is equally inaccurate. Only the third headline accurately reports the findings.

The theoretical problem with any correlational study of two different variables is that we never know, nor can we ever know, what intervening variables might be correlated with each. Let me give you a classic example. There is a high correlation between the consumption of ice cream in Iowa and the death rate in Mumbai, India. This sounds pretty disturbing. Maybe those people in Iowa should stop eating ice cream. But of course the intervening variable here is summer heat. When the temperature goes up in Iowa people eat more ice cream. And when the temperature goes up in India, people are more likely to die.

The only way that one could actually verify a correlational finding would be to do a follow-up study where you randomly assign people to either consume or not consume the substance or food that you wish to test. The problem with this is that you would have to get coffee drinkers to agree not to drink coffee and non-coffee drinkers to agree to drink coffee, for example, which might be very difficult. But if you can do this with coffee, chocolate, broccoli, exercise, etc. then at least you could demonstrate a real causal effect. (I’ve oversimplified some of the complexity of controlled random assignment studies, but my point stands.)

The final distortion which involves confusion about screening tests is also very common, and unfortunately, incredibly complex. The main point that Schwitzer is trying to make here though is simple; screening tests are only those tests which are applied to a general population which is not at high risk for any illness. Evaluating the usefulness of screening tests must be done in the context of a low risk population, because that is how most screening tests are used. Most people don’t get colon cancer, breast cancer, or prostate cancer, even over 50. If you use a screening test only with high-risk individuals then it’s not really a screening test.

There is the whole other issue with reporting on screening tests that I’m only going to briefly mention because it’s so complicated and so controversial. It’s that many screening tests may do as much harm as good. Recently there has been a lot of discussion of screening for cancer, especially prostate and breast cancer. The dilemma with screening tests is that once you find cancer you almost always are obligated to treat it because of medical malpractice issues and psychological issues (“Get that cancer out of me!”) The problem with this automatic treatment is that current screening doesn’t distinguish between fast-growing dangerous tumors and very slow growing indolent tumors. Thus we may apply treatments which have considerable side effects or even mortality to tumors that would never harm the person.

Another problem is that screening often misses the onset of fast-growing dangerous tumors because they begin to grow between the screening tests. The bottom line is that screening for breast cancer and prostate cancer may have relatively little impact on the only statistic that counts – the cancer death rate. If we had screening tests that could distinguish between relatively harmless tumors and dangerous tumors then screening might be more helpful, but that is not where we are yet.

One more headline test. Which headline do you prefer?

Screening for Prostate Cancer Leads to Detection and Cure of Prostate Cancer

Or

Screening for Prostate Cancer Leads to Impotence and Incontinence in Many Men Who Would Never Die from Prostate Cancer

The first headline is the one that will get reported even though the second headline is scientifically more accurate.

I suggest that every time you see a health or medicine headline that you rewrite it in a more accurate way after you read the article. Remember to use absolute differences rather than relative differences, to report association instead of causation, and add in the side effects and costs of any suggested treatment or screening test. This will give you practice in reading health and medical research accurately.

Also remember the most important rule, one small study does not mean anything. It’s actually quite humorous how the media will seize upon a study, even though the study was based on 20 people and hasn’t been replicated or repeated by anybody. They also typically fail to put into context the results of one study versus other studies of the same thing. A great example is eggs and type II diabetes. The same researcher, Luc Djousse, published a study in 2008 (link) that showed a strong relationship between the consumption of eggs and the occurrence of type II diabetes, but then in 2010 published another study finding absolutely no correlation whatsoever. Always be very skeptical, and most often you will be right.

I’m off to go make a nice vegetarian omelette…

 

Copyright © 2011 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Read Media Coverage of Scientific Research: Sorting Out the Stupid Science from Smart Science

Reading today’s headlines I saw an interesting title, “New Alzheimer’s Gene Identified.”

I was intrigued. Discovering a gene that caused late onset Alzheimer’s would be a major scientific breakthrough, perhaps leading to effective new treatments. So I read the article carefully.

To summarize the findings, a United States research team looked at the entire genome of 2269 people who had late onset Alzheimer’s and 3107 people who did not. They were looking for differences in the genome.

In the people who had late onset Alzheimer’s, 9% had a variation in the gene MTHFD1L, which lives on chromosome 6. Of those who did not have late-onset Alzheimer’s 5% had this variant.

So is this an important finding? The article suggested it was. But I think this is a prime example of bad science reporting. For instance, they went on to say that this particular gene is involved with the metabolism of folate, which influences levels of homocysteine. It’s a known fact that levels of homocysteine can affect heart disease and Alzheimer’s. So is it the gene, or is it the level of homocysteine?

The main reason why I consider this an example of stupid science reporting is that the difference is trivial. Let me give you an example of a better way to report this. The researchers could have instead reported that among people with late-onset Alzheimer’s, 91% of them had no gene changes, and then among people without late onset Alzheimer’s 95% of them had normal genes. But this doesn’t sound very impressive, and calls into question whether measurement errors would account for the differences.

So this very expensive genome test yields absolutely no predictive value in terms of who will develop Alzheimer’s and who will not. There is a known genetic variant, called APOE, which lives on chromosome 19. Forty percent of those who develop late-onset Alzheimer’s have this gene, while only 25 to 30% of the general population has it. So even this gene, which has a much stronger association with Alzheimer’s, isn’t a particularly useful clinical test.

The other reason this is an example of stupid science is that basically this is a negative finding. To scan the entire human genome looking for differences between normal elderly people and elderly people with Alzheimer’s, and discover only a subtle and tiny difference, must’ve been a huge disappointment for the researchers. If I had been the journal editor reviewing this study, I doubt I would’ve published it. Imagine a similar study of an antidepressant, which found that in the antidepressant group, 9% of people got better, and in the placebo group 5% got better. I doubt this would get published.

Interestingly enough, the study hasn’t been published yet, but is being presented as a paper at the April 14 session of the American Academy of Neurology conference in Toronto. This is another clue to reading scientific research. If it hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, be very skeptical of the research. Good research usually gets published in top journals, and research that is more dubious often is presented at conferences but never published. It’s much easier to get a paper accepted for a conference than in a science journal.

It’s also important when reading media coverage of scientific research to read beyond the headlines, and to look at the actual numbers that are being reported. If they are very small numbers, or very small differences, be very skeptical of whether they mean anything at all.

As quoted in the article, “While lots of genetic variants have been singled out as possible contributors to Alzheimer’s, the findings often can’t be replicated or repeated, leaving researchers unsure if the results are a coincidence or actually important,” said Dr. Ron Petersen, director of the Mayo Alzheimer’s disease research Center in Rochester, Minnesota.

So to summarize, to be a savvy consumer of media coverage of scientific research:

1. Be skeptical of media reports of scientific research that hasn’t been published in top scientific journals. Good research gets published in peer-reviewed journals, which means that other scientists skeptically read the article before it’s published.

2. Read below the headlines and look for actual numbers that are reported, and apply common sense to these numbers. If the differences are very small in absolute numbers, it often means that the research has very little clinical usefulness. Even if the differences are large in terms of percentages, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are useful findings.

An example would be a finding that drinking a particular type of bourbon increases a very rare type of brain tumor from one in 2,000,00 to three in 2 million. If this was reported in percentage terms the headline would say drinking this bourbon raises the risk of brain tumor by 300%, which would definitely put me and many other people off from drinking bourbon. (By the way, this is a completely fictitious example.) But if you compare the risk to something that people do every day such as driving, and revealed the driving is 1000 times more risky than drinking this type of bourbon, it paints the research in a very different light.

3. Be very skeptical of research that has not been reproduced or replicated by other scientists. There’s a long history in science of findings that cannot be reproduced or replicated by other scientists, and therefore don’t hold up as valid research findings.

4. On the web, be very skeptical of research that’s presented on sites that sell products. Unfortunately a common strategy for selling products, particularly vitamin supplements, is to present pseudoscientific research that supports the use of the supplement. In general, any site that sells a product cannot be relied on for objective information about that product. It’s much better to go to primarily information sites like Web M.D., or the Mayo Clinic site, or one can go directly to the original scientific articles (in some cases), by using PubMed.

So be a smart consumer of science, so that you can tell the difference between smart science and stupid science.

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

New Study Finds the Best Pharmacological Stop Smoking Solution: (Hint, it’s not what you’d think)

A new study at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared all except one of the current drug treatments that help with quitting smoking. They looked at the following treatments and combined treatments:

  • “bupropion SR (sustained release; Zyban, GlaxoSmithKline), 150 mg twice daily for 1 week before a target quit date and 8 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine lozenge (2 or 4 mg) for 12 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine patch (24-hour, 21, 14, and 7 mg titrated down during 8 weeks after quitting;
  • nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge;
  • bupropion SR plus nicotine lozenge; or
  • placebo (1 matched to each of the 5 treatments).”

Everyone received six 10- to 20-minute individual counseling sessions, with the first 2 sessions scheduled before quitting.

What were the results?

Three treatments worked better than placebo during the immediate quit period: the patch, bupropion plus lozenge, and patch plus lozenge.

At six months, only one treatment was effective; the nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge. The exact numbers , as confirmed by carbon monoxide tests, were: “40.1% for the patch plus lozenge, 34.4% for the patch alone, 33.5% for the lozenge alone, 33.2% for bupropion plus lozenge, 31.8% for bupropion alone, and 22.2% for placebo.”

So we see that the combined nicotine substitution therapy worked best, followed closely by either nicotine substitute alone. Zyban or Welbutrin (bupropion) was a bust, no more effective than the simple nicotine lozenge. The only advantage to Zyban would be if one prefers not to use nicotine substitutes.

Now I mentioned that they omitted one drug treatment, which is the drug Chantix (varenicline). This is probably because the drug is a nicotine receptor blocker, so wouldn’t have made sense to combine with nicotine substitutes. Also, there have been some disturbing case reports of people having severe depressive reactions to Chantrix.

Of course, there was one glaring omission that any card-carrying psychologist would spot in a moment–the lack of a behavior therapy component. Giving 6 ten minute sessions is hardly therapy. I would have liked to see true smoking cessation behavior therapy combined with the drug treatments.

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, combine nicotine patches with nicotine lozenges, sold in any pharmacy. If you do, you have a 40 percent chance of succeeding at 6 months.

Now I am off to have a cigarette….just kidding.

Study: http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/712074_print

Copyright © 2009/2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Why do Most Psychologists Ignore Science Based Therapy? Evidence Based Psychotherapy and the Failure of Practicioners

A new article in Newsweek magazine titled Ignoring the Evidence documents how most psychologists ignore scientific evidence about treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy which have been proven to be effective.

A two-year study which is going to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that most psychologists “give more weight to their personal experiences then to science.”

The Newsweek article has a wonderful quote,

“Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments-the tools of psychology-bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe. Studies have also shown that behavioral couples therapy helps alcoholics stay on the wagon, and that family therapy can help schizophrenics function. “


The article documents how most psychologists fail to provide empirically proven treatment approaches and instead use methods which are often ineffective. The truth is there is very little evidence for most of the types of therapy commonly performed in private practices by psychologists and by Masters level therapists. If you are shopping for the most effective types of therapy you need to find a practitioner who is skilled at cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the few psychotherapy approaches that has been proven to work on a variety of problems.

Another interesting article in Newsweek about evidence-based treatment discussed bulimia. Here’s the summary:

“On bulimia (which affects about 1 percent of women) and binge eating disorders (2 to 5 percent), the verdict is more optimistic: psychological treatment can help a lot, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective talk therapy. That’s based on 48 studies with 3,054 participants. CBT (typically, 15 to 20 sessions over five months) helps patients understand their patterns of binge eating and purging, recognize and anticipate the triggers for it, and summon the strength to resist them; it stops bingeing in just over one third of patients. Interpersonal therapy produced comparable results, but took months longer; other therapies helped no more than 22 percent of patients. If you or someone you love seeks treatment for bulimia, and is offered something other than CBT first, it’s not unreasonable to ask why. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, summarized it this way: “Bulimia nervosa is treatable; some treatment is better than no treatment; CBT is associated with the best outcome.”

So the bottom line is this:

1. Most psychologists who don’t practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are just winging it, using treatments that haven’t been shown to work by scientific studies. It’s as if you went to a regular physician and got treatment with leaches!

2. Many psychologists claim to use CBT but haven’t really trained in the use of CBT, or have taken a weekend workshop. Unless they prescribe weekly homework that involves writing down thoughts, and learning skills to analyze and change your thoughts, then they aren’t really doing CBT, and I recommend you find someone else.

3. If you have an anxiety disorder, depression, bulimia, or obsessive compulsive disorder, and haven’t been offered CBT, then you are not receiving state of the art treatment.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

So Much for the Germ Theory: Scientists Demonstrate That Sleep Matters More Than Germs

More in a continuing series about one of my favorite topics, something we all do every day, and spend roughly a third of our lives doing…sleep!

Since we are in the middle of the common cold season, this post will be particularly relevant.

It turns out, grandma was right. Getting good sleep really does prevent colds. This supports a favorite belief of mine—that I don’t believe in the germ theory of illness.  Read on and you will see why I liked the referenced article.

Researchers at a variety of universities collaborated and did a clever study looking at sleep and its effects on susceptibility to the common cold. First they had their 153 subjects, healthy men and women between 21 and 55, report their sleep duration and efficiency for 2 weeks. (Efficiency is what percent of the time you are actually sleeping while in bed.) Next, these diabolical researchers sprayed cold virus up the noses of all the subjects (in quarantine), and watched what happened over the next 5 days.

The results were very interesting. Those subjects who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold than those who slept 8 hours or more. In addition, those whose sleep was less than 92% efficient were 5.5 times more likely to develop a cold than those with 98% or more sleep efficiency. Interestingly, how rested subjects reported feeling after sleep was not associated with colds.  The lead author of the study concluded, “The longer you sleep, the better off you are, the less susceptible you are to colds.”

Now I promised that I would report evidence that this study bolsters my theory that germs don’t really matter that much. Remember the researchers sprayed virus up everyone’s noses. After five days, the virus had infected 135 of 153 people, or 88% of the people, but only 54 people (35%) got sick. What this suggests is that even among the people who were infected with cold virus, 60% stayed healthy, while 40% got sick. And the ones who got sick were much more likely to have reported less and lower quality sleep in the two weeks before infection. 

This is very relevant for everyday life, since much of the time we can’t really avoid exposure to common germs like colds and flu. If good sleep protects us even when infected with such germs, then it may be the key to staying healthy.

What is truly fascinating about this study is the precise immune regulation showed by those who got infected, but stayed healthy. To understand this let me digress for a moment with a short primer on the common cold. Most people think cold symptoms are caused by cold virus. This is wrong. Actually, cold symptoms are caused by our bodies’ immune reaction to the cold virus. Our bodies produce germ fighting proteins called cytokines, and when our bodies make too much, we get the congestion and runny nose symptoms. If our bodies make just the right amounts of cytokines, we fight the virus without feeling sick.

So getting 8 or more hours of sleep a night may allow your body to fine tune an immune response, and make just the perfect amount of germ fighting proteins.

Another interesting finding is the relationship of sleep efficiency and illness. Sleep efficiency was an even more powerful predictor of getting sick than total sleep. (Of course, this might reflect an overall difference in sleep quality. Those who sleep deeply may tune up their immune systems better, and they are likely to spend most of their time in bed asleep.)

But assuming that increasing sleep efficiency is useful, then those people who take a long time to fall asleep, and who sleep fitfully may benefit from spending less time in bed, and working on sleeping more of the time they are in bed. On the other hand, those who fall asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow, and who are sleep like logs, would probably benefit from spending a little more time in bed, since they are not getting enough sleep.

So there you have it. Sleep 8 hours or more, try to sleep well, and you can lower your odds of getting a cold greatly. Even if you are exposed to the virus, if you have good sleep quality, you probably won’t get sick. So much for the simple germ theory! I suspect that this applies to all infectious diseases. So getting good quality and quantity in sleep may be one of the most important health behaviors for staying well.

It’s late, and I’m off to bed now…..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Copyright © 2009 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions/Andrew Gottlieb

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Good News and Bad News for Chocolate Lovers

There is good news and bad news today for chocolate lovers, especially those who love dark chocolate. The good news is that small amounts of dark chocolate may be very good for your heart.

A very nice study was published today that shows that a fairly small amount of dark chocolate has a powerful impact on C-reactive protein, which is a blood marker of inflammatory processes in the body. This protein is a powerful predictor of heart disease. Higher levels of C-reactive protein indicate chronic inflammation in the body which leads to more risk of cardiovascular disease.

Scientists at the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University in Campobasso, working with the national Cancer Institute of Milan conducted a large scale study of 20,000 people that examined the intake of dark chocolate and found that those people who eat moderate amounts of dark chocolate regularly have C-reactive protein levels 17% lower than those who do not consume dark chocolate. This seems like a small difference, but it correlates with a decrease in cardiovascular disease of one third in women and one fourth in men. This is actually a very significant finding.

So what’s the bad news? The bad news is the quantity of dark chocolate the researchers found optimum. The best effect was obtained by consuming an average amount of 6.7 grams of chocolate per day. Since the typical bar of dark chocolate is 100 grams that means the optimum dose of dark chocolate would be obtained by eating four small squares of chocolate per week. This means eating half a bar of chocolate per week, or roughly one small square every two days. So that’s the bad news, you have to limit your dark chocolate in order to benefit maximally. In this study they found those who ate more than this amount lost most of the benefits. So a little is good but more is not better!

By the way, the researchers adjusted for many other factors, and are confident that the dark chocolate had an impact directly. And for those who prefer milk chocolate, I am sorry, there was no benefit shown to eating milk chocolate.

As one of the lead researchers,  Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the Research Laboratories of the Catholic University of Campobasso, said, “Maybe time has come to reconsider the Mediterranean diet pyramid and take the dark chocolate off the basket of sweets considered to be bad for our health”. So that’s the good news, you can eat dark chocolate in moderation, without guilt. The bad news is that you have to stop after one small square!

I’ve got to go now, as I’ve got a lovely Le Noir Extra Amer 85% Cacao bar of Dark Bitter Chocolate waiting for me…

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site.)

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Live a Long Healthy Life (for Men only)

The New York Times had an excellent article looking at a recent study that suggests that the secret to living past 90 may be found in five simple behaviors. The study, performed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston followed 2300 healthy men for 25 years. The average age at the beginning was 72. By the end of the study, 970 men had survived into their 90’s.

The key behaviors that were associated with longevity were not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure, getting regular exercise, and preventing diabetes.

The results?

“There was no less chronic illness among survivors than among those who died before 90. But after controlling for other variables, smokers had double the risk of death before 90 compared with nonsmokers, those with diabetes increased their risk of death by 86 percent, obese men by 44 percent, and those with high blood pressure by 28 percent. Compared with men who never exercised, those who did reduced their risk of death by 20 percent to 30 percent, depending on how often and how vigorously they worked out.”

So there you have it. First stop smoking, or don’t start. Second, control your weight and eating patterns to avoid Type 2 diabetes. Third, lose weight so that you are not obese. Control your blood pressure, and exercise, and you’ve got longevity nailed. What is interesting is that although smoking is a completely independent risk factor, the other four are highly related to something called Syndrome X, a metabolic syndrome that is associated with high levels of blood sugar and insulin production, which leads to weight gain, hypertension, and pre-diabetes. Exercise leads to weight loss, and independently reduces the tendency to Syndrome X.And it’s not too late. Since the study only looked at these five behaviors after age 72, even change that occurs late in life can greatly extend and improve life.

Unfortunately, since the study only included men, we can’t really generalize the results to women, but it is likely that the same principles apply.

And now, I have to go take a swim…

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site.)

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Should the Golden Gate Bridge Have a Suicide Barrier? (Is Suicide an Act of Impulse or an Act of Premeditation?)

One of the consistent and most fascinating facts that arises out of any serious study of psychology research is how much we are influenced by external factors.  So much of our behavior is influenced by seemingly small external factors.  We eat more when served bigger portions.  We spend more when sales are in effect.  Red cars are more likely to get speeding tickets.  We are more likely to marry someone who lives or works nearby.

But what about the truly profound and serious decisions of life?  What about something as serious as suicide?  Can it be that even such a grave decision is affected by seemingly small external factors?

The New York Times Magazine recently published a fascinating article “The Urge to End It All“, which addressed this very issue.  I highly recommend you read the entire article.

First, some numbers.  (I love numbers).  The current suicide rate is 11 victims per 100,000 people, the same as it was in 1965.  In 2005, about 32,000 Americans committed suicide, which is two times the numbers who were killed by homicide.

For many years the traditional view of suicide was that it reflects mental illness — depression, bipolar illness, psychosis, schizophrenia, or other mental illnesses.  This view assumed that the method of suicide was not important; it was the underlying mental illness that mattered.

But something happened in Britain in the 1960s and 1970s that set this model on its head.  It’s called the “British Coal Gas Story” and it goes like this:

For many years people in Britain heated their homes and stoves with coal gas.  This was very cheap, but the unburned gas had very high levels of carbon monoxide, and a leak or an opened valve could kill people in just a few minutes in a closed space.  This made it a popular method of suicide — “sticking one’s head in the oven” killed 2500 Britons a year by the late 1950s — half of all suicides in Britain!

Then the government phased out the use of coal gas, replacing it with natural gas, so that by the early 1970s almost no coal gas was used.  During this time Britain’s suicide rate dropped by a third, and has remained at that level since.

How can we understand this?  If suicide is the act of an ill mind, why didn’t those who could no longer use coal gas find another means? Why did the suicide rate in Britain drop by a third when the option of coal gas was no longer available?
The answer turns conventional wisdom about suicide on its head. Conventional wisdom is that people plan out suicides carefully, and so convenience of method shouldn’t matter. But actually it appears that often suicide is an impulsive act, and when you make it less convenient, people are less likely to complete the act.

Another example of this is found in the Golden Gate Bridge.  For years this gorgeous bridge has been a popular suicide point, where nearly 2000 people have ended their lives.  There have been many debates about erecting suicide barriers on the bridge, but most opponents say “they will just find another way.”

But Richard Seiden, professor at University of California Berkeley, collected data that addresses this issue.  What he did was to get a list of all potential jumpers who were stopped from committing suicide between 1937 in 1971, 515 people in all.  He then pulled their death certificate records to see how many had gone on to kill themselves later.  What would you guess was the percentage of these people who tried to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and who later killed themselves?  50%?  75%?  25%?

Actually it was only 6%!  Even allowing that some accidents might have been suicides, the number only went up to 10%.  Although higher than the general population, it still means that for 90% of these would-be jumpers, they got past whatever was bothering them, and went on to live full lives.

Richard Seiden got some great stories out of this study.  One of the things he found was that would-be suicides tend to get very fixated on a particular method.  They tend to only have a Plan A, with no Plan B. As he says, “At the risk of stating the obvious,” Seiden said, “people who attempt suicide aren’t thinking clearly. They might have a Plan A, but there’s no Plan B. They get fixated. They don’t say, ‘Well, I can’t jump, so now I’m going to go shoot myself.”

One example he cites was a man who was grabbed on the east side of the bridge after pedestrians noticed him looking upset.  The problem was that he had picked out a spot on the west side of the bridge that he wanted to jump from, but there were six lanes of traffic between the two sides, and he was afraid of getting hit by a car on his way over!

As Seiden said, “Crazy, huh? But he recognized it.  When he told me the story, we both laughed about it.”

Another great example is from two bridges in Northwest Washington.  The Ellington Bridge and the Taft Bridge both span Rock Creek, and both have about a 125 foot drop into the gorge below.  For some reason the Ellington has always been famous as Washington’s “suicide bridge”.  About four people on average jumped from the Ellington Bridge each year as compared to slightly less than two people from the Taft.

In 1985, after a rash of suicides from the Ellington, a suicide barrier was erected on the Ellington Bridge, but not the Taft Bridge.  Opponents countered with the same argument, that if stopped from jumping from the Ellington, people would simply jump from the Taft.

But they were wrong.  Five years after the Ellington suicide barrier went up a study showed that while all suicides were eliminated from the Ellington, the rate at the Taft barely changed, inching up from 1.7 to 2.0 deaths per year.  What’s even more interesting is that the total number of jumping suicides in Washington dropped by 50%, or the exact percentage the Ellington had previously accounted for. So people stopped from jumping from the Ellington did not jump from other locations.

Coming back to our model that small external factors can have large influences on behavior, you might wonder why the Ellington was the suicide bridge instead of the Taft.  It turns out that the height of the railing was what made the difference. The concrete railing on the Taft was chest high, while the concrete railing on the Ellington (before the barrier) was just above the belt line.  One required a bit more effort and a bit more time to get over and this tended to reduce the impulsive action of jumping.

Which brings us to guns. Although guns account for less than 1% of all American suicide attempts, because they are so lethal, they account for 54% of successful suicides.  In 2005 that meant 17,000 deaths.  It turns out there when you compare states with high rates of gun ownership to states with low rates of gun ownership; you find that there is a direct correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate of gun suicide.  This is not surprising.

What is more surprising is that in the states with low gun ownership, the rates of non-gun suicide are the same as those states with high gun ownership.  So the lack of availability of guns does not encourage people to find other means of harming themselves.  Studies show that the total suicide rate in high gun ownership states is double that of in low gun ownership states.  So the Supreme Court, in their recent ruling regarding Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns, may have missed the more important data when they focused on homicide rates.  From these studies scientists conclude that a 10% reduction in firearm ownership would result in a 2.5% reduction in the overall suicide rate.

I am not anti-gun. I like shooting, and if I were a hunter, would probably own a rifle.  But this is why I don’t own a gun, and this is why I don’t recommend that most people own a gun.  All of us are potentially subject to dark moments of the soul, and the research detailed in this New York Times article suggests that the more barriers and impediments there are to impulsively harming ourselves, the less likely we are to try.  If you do own guns, at least try to create barriers and delays such as keeping the guns locked up in a gun safe, keeping ammunition separate from the guns, or even not keeping ammunition in the home where guns reside.  Not only does this protect you from those dark moments of the soul but it may also protect someone you love, your spouse, or your child.

Again, I highly recommend a careful reading of the original article, as it has much other information that is useful and interesting.

In answering the question of the title, I have to say that reading this article convinced me that we should build a suicide barrier for the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, it would lower the beauty of this gorgeous bridge, at least for pedestrians, but I have to believe that saving another 2000 lives trumps a pretty walk across the Bay.

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site.)

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Followup on the Science of Sleep

 


It’s been a while since I wrote, and some of that is that I’ve been trying to get to bed earlier, and get a more consistent 8 hours of sleep. Since I last wrote, I saw an interesting factoid from an interview with Daniel Kripke, who is the co-director of the Scripps Clinic Sleep Center in La Jolla, California. In this interview, he talked about research he did on more than 1 million Americans that correlated sleep and mortality. There were some surprising findings, which have been corroborated by similar studies in other countries.

The results showed that those who slept between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night lived the longest. And that those who slept more than 8 hours a night or less than 6.5 hours a night don’t live as long. This is interesting in that most previous writing I have seen suggests that sleeping more is good for you, but these data don’t support that.

Another good point he made was that when people try to get too much sleep, because they think the normal amount is 8 or 9 hours, they may unintentionally develop insomnia. Staying in bed longer than you can sleep will result in wakefulness, and anxiety about not being able to sleep. So for those of you who only can sleep 6.5 or 7 hours, just get up, it won’t hurt your health. In fact, restricting the time in bed is a more effective treatment for insomnia than sleeping pills, according to Kripke.

What we don’t know is which direction the causality runs in this association. Does the amount of sleep you get create your health status, or is it a reflection of underlying health? Do sicker people sleep too little or too much? Or does sleeping too little or too much make you sicker? No one knows for now, so I wouldn’t necessarily rush to change your sleep habits based on this study. But if you are sleeping in the 6.5 to 7.5 hour range, you can relax and not worry about it (especially late at night!)

Now I’ve got to stay up a little longer, so I don’t get too much sleep tonight…

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Mystery of the Obesity Epidemic: Solved? (Hint: It’s simpler than you think)

 

Was Grandma Right?

It’s been too long since I last wrote, but I’ve been catching up on my sleep. Why will become relevant after you read this article.

Sleep is something we mostly take for granted as part of our daily lives, much like eating and showering. But why do we sleep? What does sleep do for our minds and our bodies? What happens if we don’t sleep, or if we don’t sleep enough?

For those of you who are interested in these questions, I’d highly recommend that you read the transcript of The Science of Sleep, an excellent piece by 60 Minutes that aired on March 16, 2008. Not only did I learn many interesting facts about sleep, I learned about my own health and how sleep affects it. More on that later.

Why do we sleep? After all, from a survival point of view, sleep is not really a good thing, in the sense that we are unconscious and helpless during sleep. So for sleep to have evolved, then it must serve some vital functions. (I should point out though, that sleep might have survival advantages, since if early humans slept in caves and other sheltered places, sleep would have kept them out of the reaches of nocturnal predators. The folks who didn’t sleep much, and who wandered around all night, probably got eaten!)

One clue of how important sleep is in studies done in the 1980’s with rats. When rats were prevented from sleeping (did they use disco music to keep them awake?) they died after 5 days! Sleep seems to be as important to rats as food.

Let me present a quick primer on sleep. When we sleep, we actually go through multiple cycles of different stages of sleep. These stages are stages 1-4 of non REM (NREM) sleep, and stage 5 which is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The key stages are Stage 4, or Delta Sleep, and Stage 5, REM sleep. Stage 4 Delta sleep is the deep restorative sleep where our bodies get rebuilt and restored. Stage 5 REM sleep is when we dream, and it appears that our minds get restored during REM sleep. Typically the whole cycle takes about 100 minutes, and we have 3 or 4 of them each night.

Sleep may play an important role in enhancing memory. One study found that when people learned a new skill in the afternoon, and then were tested after a night of sleep, they did 20-30 percent better than those who were tested after twelve hours, but with no sleep in between the learning and testing. This is fascinating, and jibes with a trick I learned in graduate school. When I would study statistics, I’d always review my notes right before going to sleep. The next morning, the memories of those notes were imprinted magically in my mind.

Sleep also plays a critical role in stabilizing mood. One experiment tested people who were sleep deprived by showing them disturbing images within an fMRI scanner, to look at their brain activation. They found the sleep deprived subjects had a disconnect between the brain’s emotional center (the amygdala) and the part of the brain that controls rational thought (the frontal lobe). So they couldn’t control their emotional reactions. They looked more like psychiatric patients. Of course we all know that sleep deprivation makes us cranky and short-tempered, this explains why.

Another important function of sleep is physical rejuvenation. It appears that Stage 4 sleep is essential here. In the 60 Minutes piece they show an experiment where a young man named Jonathan is deprived of only Stage 4 sleep. Each time his brain waves show Stage 4 sleep, loud sounds are played to bring him out of deep sleep. He gets a normal amount of sleep, but a reduced amount of Stage 4 sleep. After 4 nights of this regimen, this 19 year old is starting to look physically like a 70 year old. His body becomes no longer able to metabolize sugar effectively, putting him temporarily at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Other studies confirm this. After just a few nights of partial sleep deprivation, young healthy people show a metabolic change that is similar to what happens as people develop Type 2 diabetes. They no longer metabolize sugar effectively. They deposit more fat. The hormone leptin, which controls appetite, seems to drop, and they want to eat more.

This is truly astonishing. If relatively short term sleep deprivation can cause such a profound shift in the body’s sugar metabolism, then this may be the key to unlock one of the great medical mysteries of the 20th century: Why obesity has increased so rapidly since 1980? Could it be that the obesity epidemic is really a sleep deprivation epidemic? Could it be so simple? Not junk food, television, lack of exercise, and all of those things that people talk about? Could grandma have been right?

Here’s the clue.

In 1960 a survey of a million Americans showed an average of 8.0 hours of sleep per night. Today similar studies show we are only getting 6.7 hours a night. That’s a drop of 16.25% in less than a generation. And teenagers are the most sleep deprived of all, since they require 9-10 hours of sleep, and most get less than 7 hours of sleep, thanks to ridiculously early school start times. Teenagers may be lacking between 22 percent and 30 percent of their needed sleep.

So we have a plausible explanation for why everyone, even children and teenagers, is getting fatter. Sleep deprivation causes shifts in metabolism, creating a pre-diabetic state, and lowering level of the satiety hormone leptin, which causes us to eat more, and store more fat. Add sugary or high carbohydrate foods, and we get even fatter. Add inactivity, and we get even fatter. The damage begins early, perhaps in early teenage years.

So if we want to lose weight, then the old saw of a healthy diet and plenty of exercise may be wrong. The proper advice is probably lots of sleep, a reasonably healthy diet, and a little exercise. Or since exercise improves sleep quality, sleep, exercise, and diet. Without adequate sleep, diet and exercise are doomed to failure, since even young people may unintentionally be turning their bodies pre-diabetic, which makes it very hard not to gain fat.

So that’s why I haven’t written. After a lifetime of staying up late, and cheating sleep, I’m starting to try to get a solid 8 hours of sleep a night. Already I’ve lost a few pounds, even though I haven’t been exercising much. The other advantage of going to bed earlier is that when you are sleeping you are not eating.

So try it. Get 8 or 8 1/2 hours of sleep a night. And make sure your teenagers get 9 or 10 hours a night. No more websurfing or TV late at night. And write me and let me know if your weight drops as a result.

Now I’ve got to stop writing and go to sleep…

Copyright © 2008 The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

All Rights reserved (Any web links must credit this site, and must include a link back to this site.)

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.