Tag Archive for: cognitive functions

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! An entire night has passed in the blink of an eye. The last thing you remember is your head hitting the pillow in the dark. Now, seemingly seconds later, the incessant, blaring of the alarm clock wakes you. But it does no help in reminding you what day it is, where you are, or perhaps even who you are.

Surely, you’ve experienced a morning like this: groggy, confused, and sleep-deprived. The effort to keep your eyes open feels exhausting. Standing up and leaving your warm bed behind is torturous. The day’s long to-do list awaits you and seems daunting.

Of course, you soldier on and make it through the day. But what does that day look like? It’s surely not smooth sailing, all quiet keyboard clicks and soothing, classical music. No, on days like this, you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of noises—the cell phone ringing, inbox pinging, and doors slamming after you in a hurry. All whilst trying to drown out the chatter in your head— “Don’t forget to do this!” and “I forgot to do that!”

Foregoing solid, quality sleep can affect your day in a big way. It’s important to remember that the effects of sleep deprivation are not just physical, like the physical feeling of exhaustion. Just like the scenario above, low-quality or insufficient sleep can manifest itself mentally and emotionally. That can include a loss of concentration, short attention span, and even anger. Lack of sleep can also mean a lack of motivation and sharp decision-making skills, forgetfulness, and anxiety.

Sleep is important for feeling rested, but it’s more than physical downtime. Sleep is also your brain’s chance to recharge and regroup. Let’s look more in-depth at the physical and mental benefits of regular, quality sleep.

Sleep and Health: The Pros and Cons

Pro of Good Sleep Con of Poor Sleep
Mental Solidifies memory retention and information recall Decreases ability to concentrate
Enhances learning and problem-solving capabilities Poor decision-making skills
Increases alertness Shorter attention span
Boosts creativity Lack of motivation
Promotes adaptability and resiliency Inability to cope with change
Better regulation of emotions Increases risk for feeling down
Physical Maintains cardiovascular health Increases risk for cardiovascular and kidney issues
Helps regulate hormones associated with hunger Increases risk of obesity
Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels Increases risk for blood-sugar issues
Maintains healthy development, muscle growth, and tissue repair Interruption of growth hormone secretion
Supports strong immunity Increases risk of common cold

Science of Sleep: What Happens When You Snooze

Sleep gives your body and mind an opportunity to power down and recharge. It might seem like this period is simply an absence of consciousness, where the body goes into a sort of idling mode. However, during sleep, your body and brain are actually working hard. Sleep activates a process that helps you rest, repair, and recharge. Take a closer look at the processes during the four different stages of sleep.

Stage 1 is the period between wakefulness and sleep. In this stage, everything starts to slow down. Muscles soften, heart and breathing rates decrease, and brain-wave patterns begin to change.

Stage 2 is light sleep. Your muscles loosen even more, heart and breathing rates continue to slow, and your body temperature drops.

Stage 3 is the deepest sleep stage. Here, your heart and breathing rates come to the lowest point of the entire sleep cycle. Your muscles are extremely relaxed and rousing you would prove difficult. It’s this stage that is integral to quality sleep. Without enough time spent in this sleep state, you will not awaken feeling well-rested.

Stage 4 (the final stage of the sleep cycle) is known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. The first three stages involve non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM (NREM).

In many other ways, REM is also quite the opposite of the preceding three stages. Heart rate increases and breathing rate can quicken and become irregular. Eyes move rapidly behind the eyelids and brain activity livens. Dreaming is commonly experienced during the REM sleep stage. Your body might actually experience temporary paralysis of the limbs, a protective measure to keep the body from acting out movements about which you dream.

These four stages are cycled through in succession until you wake up. It’s necessary for you to experience both NREM and REM sleep to remain sharp through the day. Without both, memory consolidation is harmed. As you’ve surely experienced, after a night of little-to-no sleep, it can be very difficult to recall even simple information quickly.

Factors Impacting Your Sleep

Good sleep can seem like a complex puzzle. Many factors can influence the quality and duration of your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, try keeping a journal to monitor the factors below. You can jot down notes throughout the day or write a quick summary before bed. Whichever your preferred method, having a daily snapshot of your diet, activity level, and emotional state can give you an idea of which of these things improve or harm your sleep quality:

  • Caffeine: This stimulant usually wakes up the body and can keep you from feeling tired. In fact, caffeine actually blocks the substance adenosine, a chemical that your body secretes to make you sleepy. While this can be a benefit in the morning or during a long day, ingesting too much caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening can affect your sleep.
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol too late in the evening can disrupt your sleep patterns. More specifically, it can disrupt your REM sleep, leaving your cycles incomplete. On a simpler level, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the urge to urinate more frequently. So, having too much alcohol can also disrupt your rest because you might have to make more frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Diet: The timing and content of your last meal can affect your readiness for bed. Think of the blood sugar surge that comes from a meal or snack. The boost in energy late in the day can keep you from winding down easily.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help you maintain a regular sleep schedule. Just don’t exercise too late in the evening before bed, or your body won’t have time to settle back down before turning in.
  • Stress level and emotional state: Consider how stressful your day was or your emotional state throughout the day. If you’re feeling especially worn down, worried, or otherwise stressed, it can be very difficult to quiet your mind for bed.
  • Bright lights: You’re constantly being bombarded by light, with can impact production of your sleep hormone. Make sure your room is dark, and take a break from bright screens (TV, phones, and tablets) before you tuck in.

7 Tips for Better Quality Rest

After journaling for a week, you may notice some patterns. Pay close attention to what these clues are trying to tell you. From these, you can create a personalized wind-down plan to prepare you for bedtime. If journaling isn’t your style, or you need some easy ideas, the seven tips for super sleep are below:

  1. Consider cutting back on how much caffeine you drink, or impose a “caffeine deadline”—a point at which you won’t ingest any more for the day.
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation or impose an “alcohol deadline” so that your body has time to readjust before bed.
  3. Avoid eating a meal or post-meal snack too late in the evening.
  4. Exercise regularly, preferably early in the day. A good starting point is 20 minutes per day—and work up from there.
  5. Plan for at least seven hours of sleep. You may need more than seven. But this is a good target to work up to if you’re currently and routinely getting less than this benchmark. While you may not be able to reach seven hours immediately, start incrementally heading for bed sooner so the change is gradual and more doable.
  6. Set a regular bedtime and waking time—and stick to it, even on weekends. This kind of routine is helpful for keeping your body’s internal clock in rhythm.
  7. Incorporate relaxation or meditation into your wind-down routine. Turn off screens, dim your bedroom lights, play light instrumental music. Light stretching can help your body release tension before laying down.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Like it or not, sweating is part of life. It’s your body’s primary method of cooling. Sweat is produced when you exercise, are nervous, or get too hot. Sweat alone is odorless, but it’s often blamed for the noticeable smell that accompanies it. And body odor does creeps up after a good sweat session.

This unpleasant aroma is really the byproduct of sweat and the microscopic environment (microbiome) of your skin. Find out what really makes your sweat smell, what you can do to control it, and how changes in your body odor can alert you to changes in your health.

Bacteria: The Originators of Body Odor

Like you read above, blame the bacteria, not the sweat. Whenever you are physically active, under emotional stress, or overheated, your body seeks to cool itself. It’s your evaporative cooling system. Excess heat is minimized by the evaporation of liquid through pores on the surface of your skin. A pungent smell is produced when sweat contacts the bacteria you normally have living on your skin.

The stench is a byproduct of bacteria consuming the sweat secreted by sweat glands. When bacteria break down sweat, they produce compounds called thioalcohols (pronounced “thigh-o-alcohols”). These compounds can smell like onions, meat, and sulfur. It’s the thioalcohols produced by bacteria, not sweat, that make your armpits stink. The bacteria—which are a normal and healthy part of your skin’s microbiome—most responsible for offensive body odor is Staphylococcus hominis.

Different Sweat, Different Scent?

body odor

While you do sweat during exercise, high heat, and stress—not all sweat smells equally. This is because there are two kinds of sweat glands in your body. Each gland produces odorless perspiration; however, their location and unique microbiomes influence their smell.

Eccrine glands (pronounced “e-krine”) are found all over the body. These glands release mostly water and are activated when internal body temperature rises. Apocrine glands (pronounced “ape-o-krine”) develop during puberty and excrete waste in the form of proteins and lipids. Stress can trigger sweat production in the apocrine glands.

Apocrine sweat glands are associated with body odor and are found in abundance near hair follicles. These glands populate the skin of your armpits and groin. Not surprisingly, these two body regions are the main sources of body odor. The bacteria that produce stinky thioalcohols love to live near apocrine glands. That is why “stress sweat” smells worse than the sweat produced by heat or exercise.

Freshening Up

Different people have different bacteria making a home on their skin. So your body odor is unique to you. Managing body odor is equally individualized.

Bathing frequently regulates the number of bacteria on your skin and helps keep unpleasant smells at bay. But that’s just the beginning.

Deodorants and antiperspirants are two effective methods for controlling body odor. These two treatments work differently from one another, but are often paired to achieve sweet-smelling results. Antiperspirants temporarily block sweat glands and reduce the amount of perspiration on the skin. As a result, the bacteria living on the skin come into contact with less sweat, reducing the amount of odor released.

Deodorants change the chemical properties of the skin to keep armpits smelling fresh. Many deodorants are alcohol-based and lower the pH of your skin. This creates an acidic environment, which is less desirable to bacteria. In addition to dissuading microbes from setting up shop, some deodorants contain fragrance that add a fresh smell to your skin.

Nutrition and Body Odor

Your diet can have a significant impact on your scent. When the food you consume is broken down and digested, some of the byproducts are released in your sweat. The following foods have been shown to increase body odor.

  1. Red Meat

Eating conservative amounts of lean red meat throughout the week is not only healthier for you, but can help you smell better. There is mounting evidence that reduced red-meat consumption is better for heart health and digestion. An interesting scientific study indicated that the same can be said for your individual aroma. After a two-week trial period, women found the scent of men who laid off red meat significantly more pleasant and attractive than those who upped their red meat consumption. If you want to impress your date, try to steer clear of red meat.

  1. Alcohol

Evidence of a drinking binge is found on your breath and your sweat. When your body metabolizes alcohol, a compound called acetic acid is released. Acetic acid is commonly found in vinegar and gives off a strong scent. Your pores expel the excess acetic acid created by alcohol metabolism. When this pungent compound is added to your sweat, you may notice its distinct aroma. Make sure to drink responsibly and pair alcoholic beverages with healthy, high-protein and high-fiber meals. This will help slow digestion and reduce any off-putting odors.

  1. Spicy Food

Some foods are naturally fragrant and the chemical compounds that cause their smell are not entirely broken down before exiting the body. These foods include curries, garlic, and onions. Spicy foods are added to meals to increase flavor and are great for giving low-calorie lunches and dinners extra zest. But the high sulfur content of these ingredients contributes to their aroma, and causes a distinct odor that lingers on your breath. The same odor seeps through sweat glands and mixes with the bacteria on your skin to create a particularly unpleasant smell.

But you don’t have to be relegated to mild food. When used in moderation, spicy foods are great for your health. These herbs and spices are believed to boost metabolism and are powerful antioxidants. By periodically including them in your diet, you can avoid the stench while reaping their free-radical-fighting benefits.

  1. Junk Food

Aside from its well-known ability to sabotage a healthy diet, junk food can also contribute to body odor. Highly processed and prepackaged foods are loaded with calories and sugar, and lack an aromatizing molecule called chlorophyll.

Chlorophyll—the green color in plants—is a potent antioxidant naturally found in green vegetables. It neutralizes bad smelling odors across the board, from sweat to flatulence. It can also help remove unwanted compounds from your body (detox). Chlorophyll can literally sandwich unwanted molecules between two molecules of itself, literally holding on to it until our bodies can excrete it. So getting your fill of greens may be the trick to reducing smelly body odor.

Smelly Signals—What Your Body Odor May be Telling You

While your personal hygiene routine may include covering up any distracting body odor, it is important to know that changes in your scent can signal changes in your health.

Increased pressure from work and school can cause a noticeable increase in body odor. Perspiration is ramped up during periods of physical and emotional stress, providing plenty of sweat with which odor-causing bacteria can mix. These body odor changes don’t just occur under your arms. Your feet and breath can be affected, too.

Smelly feet manifest themselves during puberty and can linger all the way into adulthood. However, especially pungent-smelling feet and shoes can be caused by fungal growth. Fungi thrive in moist, warm environments. Damp tennis shoes and sweaty feet are perfect candidates for fungal infection.

To avoid attracting any strange fungus, don’t go barefoot in the gym locker room. Keep your athletic shoes, socks, and, most of all, your feet dry. A dry environment is unattractive to fungi and can keep them from stinking up your shoes. So, change your socks often and rotate between two or three pair of shoes if you need to allow them to adequately dry.

Sweet-smelling breath is another noticeable change in body odor. In healthy people, this usually happens when carbohydrates are under-consumed so instead the body breaks down fatty acids to use as energy. Fatty acid breakdown produces acetone and other ketones which give the breath a sweet, fruity smell.

Although sweating may feel and smell unpleasant, it is a natural and healthy process. To avoid overpowering body odor, take into consideration what actually causes the smell. Keeping clean and applying either antiperspirant or deodorant can minimize the aroma of the bacteria that live on your skin. And take notice of changes to your body odor that may indicate a change in your health.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.












Previous research has shown positive effects of essential fatty acids (omega-3/6) in children with attention and reading difficulties. New research shows that these fats could improve reading ability in mainstream schoolchildren.

Foods high in omega-3 include fish, vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, and leafy vegetables. Most omega-6 fatty acids in the diet are obtained from vegetable oils. The modern diet is particularly low in omega-3 fatty acids which are important for signal transmission between nerve cells and the regulation of signaling systems in the brain.

The study group included 154 schoolchildren from western Sweden who were in grade 3 (between 9 and 10 years of age). The researchers then measured their reading skills using a computer-based test, called the Logos test. It measured reading speed, ability to read nonsense words, and vocabulary.

The children were randomly assigned supplements with omega-3/omega-6 or a placebo of palm oil which they took for 3 months (3 capsules per day). The study was double-blinded so neither the researchers nor parents knew which treatment the children were taking. After 3 months all the children received the real omega-3/6 capsules for the remainder of the research study.

Researchers saw a significant improvement in reading skills after the first 3 months in children taking the omega-3/6 acid compared to the placebo. While no children diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were included in the study, those children with mild attention problems achieved greater improvements in certain tests, such as faster reading, after taking the real supplements.

Johnson M, Fransson G, Östlund S, Areskoug B, Gillberg C. Omega 3/6 fatty acids for reading in children: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in 9-year-old mainstream schoolchildren in Sweden. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017;58(1):83-93.

Teenage years are a critical period for brain development. Adolescents experience major shifts in hormones, and their brains hit developmental milestones throughout puberty. These changes contribute to a teen’s working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

It’s important for teenagers to fortify their brain during this time of growth and development. Vitamin D is one of the key nutrients needed to help support and maintain a teenage brain.*

The Brain and Vitamin D

For children, teens, and adults alike, vitamin D helps protect brain cells and supports the development of new neural pathways. Vitamin D can even act like a hormone to help optimize cognition and executive (brain) function.*

For many teenagers, vitamin D is acquired in the diet and through sun exposure. But for adolescents living in high-latitude regions, like Norway or Alaska (where the sun doesn’t always shine), this daily nutrient requirement is often not met. And teens tend to make poor food choices that keep them from getting their vitamin D.

A European study conducted in 2016 tested several hypotheses on the relationship between adolescent’s vitamin D levels and executive function. The link between vitamin D levels and mental health (such as sense of well-being, happiness, and satisfaction) was also researched.*

The results supported researchers’ predictions—vitamin D supports executive function and mental health in teenagers. Teens optimized their performance on problem-solving and executive function tests when they supplemented with vitamin D. Their mental health was supported with higher levels of vitamin D, too.*

Conversely, the teens in the study who did not supplement with vitamin D (or who were vitamin D deficient) didn’t experience the same brain-supporting benefits.*

That’s why it’s so important that teens meet their vitamin D needs. The teenage years are booming with brain development. Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is just one way teens can be proactive and support their executive function and mental health.*

Get to Know the Study

This study shows that adequate levels of vitamin D can be an effective way for teenagers to support their growing brains. Supplementing this essential vitamin may be the most practical way to optimize the daily intake of vitamin D for teens—particularly those living at high latitudes. And although this study was conducted in Norway, the results can be extrapolated and applied to adolescents all over the world.

Here are the details of the study and research that links vitamin D and teenage executive function:

This experiment examined the relationship between vitamin D supplementation and performance on two executive function tests. To account for the effects on mental health, a survey was given to all participants.

The study subjects were 52 Norwegian teenagers who participated in the experiment after school. All subjects received a tablet to take daily during the study, but only half the tablets contained a vitamin D supplement.

A blood draw and three online pre-tests helped researchers establish a baseline for vitamin D levels and brain performance. The first two tests were called the Tower of London, and the Tower of Hanoi, respectively. These tests observed the teenager’s ability to plan and “look ahead” by predicting how many steps would be required to solve a problem.

executive function

The final pre-test was a self-report of the adolescent’s mental health. There is a well-established link between mental health and vitamin D. Researchers wanted to confirm this link in their study.

Performance on each of the two executive function test and self-report of mental health were recorded for each subject at the beginning of the study, and 4-5 months later. With half of the participants supplementing with vitamin D tablets on a daily basis, the researchers had three predictions to test:

  1. Vitamin D supplementation would be beneficial on both executive function tests*
  2. Vitamin D supplementation during winter would improve self-perceived mental health*
  3. Vitamin D supplementation would increase overall levels of vitamin D in adolescents*

The Case for Vitamin D

In the years since this study was published, more research has established a similar relationship between the brain and vitamin D. Teens aren’t the only age group that could benefit from vitamin D. Young children especially need to meet their daily vitamin D requirements to support the development of fine motor skills, and establish a foundation of mental well-being.*

See all the ways vitamin D helps optimizes your brain health. Check out these resources and read the research for yourself.*