Camping improves sleep
Health & Science
Here’s an unlikely tip for insomniacs: Spend a few nights under the stars. That’s the conclusion of a new study at the University of Colorado Boulder, which found that a camping trip could help those plagued by sleeping problems. The key to good shuteye is melatonin, reports CBSNews.com. Levels of this naturally occurring hormone should rise shortly before bedtime and drop back down when it’s time to wake up—but exposure to the artificial glow of phones, computers, and TVs can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythm. The researchers in Colorado sent five volunteers on a six-day camping expedition in the Rocky Mountains, without torches or any electronic gadgets. The campers slept for over two hours longer than normal during the trip; on their return, their melatonin levels began to rise more than two-and-a-half hours earlier than before. A second experiment, in which one group went camping for a weekend and another stayed at home, produced similar results. The researchers believe greater exposure to sunlight could help reset the body’s internal clock, leading to better sleep. Kenneth Wright, the study’s co-author, acknowledges that people don’t “have to go camping to achieve these benefits”—he recommends going for a walk during the day and dimming the lights at night.
New form of male birth control
The search for a male birth control method besides condoms and vasectomies has long proved fruitless, but researchers may be one step closer to finding one. Vasalgel, a nonhormonal contraceptive gel, is designed to be a reversible and less invasive alternative to a vasectomy. When injected into the tube that carries sperm from the testicles to the penis, it creates a barrier that prevents sperm from reaching the seminal fluid. It has yet to be tested on humans, but a recent study on 16 primates found it to be 100 percent effective. “The male reproductive tract [in monkeys] is very similar to humans’, and they have even more sperm than humans do,” Catherine VandeVoort, one of the study’s lead authors, tells The Guardian (U.K.). “Chances are, it’s going to be effective in humans.” Tests on rabbits have found that the gel can be flushed out of the system with sodium bicarbonate solution; researchers are now investigating whether the procedure is also reversible in monkeys. Human clinical trials could start as early as next year.
NFL brains donated
Amid mounting concern over chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated blows to the head, 30 former NFL players have pledged to donate their brains to concussion research. Scientists believe recurring head injuries cause the organ to waste away over time, leading to a range of troubling symptoms, including impulsivity, volatility, memory loss, and depression, reports MensHealth.com. While not everyone who sustains multiple head injuries or concussions develops the condition, football players, boxers, and other athletes involved in contact sports are at particularly high risk. Because CTE can be definitively diagnosed only during an autopsy, scientists have struggled to investigate possible treatments. Randy Cross, who played for the San Francisco 49ers between 1976 and 1988, is among those making the pledge. “I can’t imagine why anybody that played the game and that cares about the guys and the kids that are starting to play the game now wouldn’t donate,” he says. “I would urge everybody that’s ever played to do it.”
Health scare of the week
Dangerous fast-food wrappers
As if fast food didn’t carry enough health risks, researchers have found a new danger: the per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) contained within food packaging. These chemicals, which have greaserepellent properties, have been linked to health issues including cancer, infertility, and immune system disorders. They were banned from food packaging in the U.S. after studies found they could leak into food. But in tests on 400 samples from 27 different fast-food chains, including McDonald’s, Chipotle, and Starbucks, researchers found PFASs in 56 percent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 percent of sandwich and burger packaging, and 20 percent of cardboard. “It’s difficult to know how much [of the PFASs] will actually migrate, because it depends on temperature, the type of food, how long the food is in contact with the paper, and what specific PFASs you’re talking about,” study author Laurel Schaider tells Health.com. Still, she says, “we all already have some reasons to reduce how much fast food we consume—this may be another one.”