Nieman: Sleep studies to keep you up at night

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The developing brain — especially adolescent brain development — is still a big puzzle waiting to be assembled. A study known as the ABCD study (Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development) is currently underway. The study is the world’s largest, long-term study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to map the cognitive, brain and behavioural characteristics of children in the U.S. More than 11,000 children aged nine and 10 are involved in the study. The study will continue for 10 more years.

In their book Altered Traits, New York Times bestselling authors Drs Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman remind us that meditation changes the brain structure and function in ways that we never realized in the past. That is indeed good news for those who rely on mindfulness to reduce stress.

But the bad news is on its way. I expect to read articles in future medical journals showing that during this COVID crisis many brains were altered by poor sleep patterns and excessive exposure to electronic devices — not just in teenagers, but also in their parents. Perhaps the ABCD study, which was launched pre-COVID, may have to morph into the EFG, or HIJ study — I am just not sure yet what those letters will stand for!

Meanwhile, the Edmonton group is planning more detailed future studies where objective tests of sleep quality and lung function will be researched.

Dr. Nieman is a pediatrician, author and marathon runner. For more information, visit www.drnieman.com

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