Chapter 14. Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
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Charlie Cooper Scientists have moved a step closer to creating a specialist pill for jet lag, after research in mice revealed a possible mechanism for speeding up the body's natural response to moving across time zones. Researchers at the University of Oxford found they could improve the recovery time of mice exposed to irregular patterns of light and dark by blocking a particular gene in the brain, responsible for regulating the body's internal clock. Nearly all living things have an internal, subcellular mechanism - known as the circadian clock - that synchronises a variety of bodily functions to the 24-hour rhythm of the Earth's rotation. The circadian clock is regulated by a number of stimuli - chief among them light detected by the eye. But when daily patterns of light and dark are disrupted - as when we travel across several time-zones - the body clock falls out of synch, resulting in several days of fatigue and discomfort as our cells adjust to new daily patterns - experienced by long-haul fliers as jet lag. The body takes about one day to adjust for every time zone crossed. To understand the effect this has on the brain, researchers at the University of Oxford exposed mice to irregular patterns of light and dark to simulate moving across time zones. They monitored the activity of genes in the part of the brain responsible for setting the circadian clock - the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) and observed that hundreds of genes were activated by light detected from the eye, all of which helped the body adjust to a new day-night rhythm. © independent.co.uk
Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 18590 - Posted: 08.31.2013
Brain scans of people who say they have insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night's sleep. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, said the poor sleepers struggled to focus part of their brain in memory tests. Other experts said that the brain's wiring may actually be affecting perceptions of sleep quality. The findings were published in the journal Sleep. People with insomnia struggle to sleep at night, but it also has consequences during the day such as delayed reaction times and memory. The study compared 25 people who said they had insomnia with 25 who described themselves as good sleepers. MRI brain scans were carried out while they performed increasingly challenging memory tests. One of the researchers, Prof Sean Drummond, said: "We found that insomnia subjects did not properly turn on brain regions critical to a working memory task and did not turn off 'mind-wandering' brain regions irrelevant to the task. "This data helps us understand that people with insomnia not only have trouble sleeping at night, but their brains are not functioning as efficiently during the day." BBC © 2013
By MIKE STOBBE / AP Medical Writer ATLANTA (AP) — Can’t get enough shuteye? Nearly 9 million U.S. adults resort to prescription sleeping pills — and most are white, female, educated or 50 or older, according to the first government study of its kind. But that’s only part of the picture. Experts believe there are millions more who try options like over-the-counter medicines or chamomile tea, or simply suffer through sleepless nights. ‘‘Not everyone is running out to get a prescription drug,’’ said Russell Rosenberg, an Atlanta-based sleep researcher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study was based on interviews with about 17,000 adults from 2005 through 2010. Study participants were even asked to bring in any medicines they were taking. Overall, 4 percent of adults said they'd taken a prescription sleeping pill or sedative in the previous month. The study did not say whether use is increasing. But a CDC researcher calculated that use rose from 3.3 percent in 2003-2006 to 4.3 percent in 2007-2010. That echoes U.S. market research — as well as studies in some other countries — that indicate an increase in insomnia in recent decades. ‘‘Sleep disorders overall are more prevalent than what they were,’’ said Dr. Ana Krieger, medical director of New York’s Weill Cornell Center for Sleep Medicine. © 2013 NY Times Co.
Link ID: 18588 - Posted: 08.31.2013
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS As a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, Kelly Glazer Baron frequently heard complaints from aggrieved patients about exercise. They would work out, they told her, sometimes to the point of exhaustion, but they would not sleep better that night. Dr. Baron was surprised and perplexed. A fan of exercise for treating sleep problems, but also a scientist, she decided to examine more closely the day-to-day relationship between sweat and sleep. What she and her colleagues found, according to a study published last week in The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, is that the influence of daily exercise on sleep habits is more convoluted than many of us might expect and that, in the short term, sleep might have more of an impact on exercise than exercise has on sleep. To reach that conclusion, Dr. Baron and her colleagues turned to data from a study of exercise and sleep originally published in 2010. For that experiment, researchers had gathered a small group of women (and one man) who had received diagnoses of insomnia. The volunteers were mostly in their 60s, and all were sedentary. Then the researchers randomly assigned their volunteers either to remain inactive or to begin a moderate endurance exercise program, consisting of three or four 30-minute exercise sessions a week, generally on a stationary bicycle or treadmill, that were performed in the afternoon. This exercise program continued for 16 weeks. At the end of that time, the volunteers in the exercise group were sleeping much more soundly than they had been at the start of the study. They slept, on average, about 45 minutes to an hour longer on most nights, waking up less often and reporting more vigor and less sleepiness. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 18575 - Posted: 08.28.2013
By Eleanor Bradford BBC Scotland Health Correspondent More than half of all teenagers may be sleep deprived, according to experts. A combination of natural hormone changes and greater use of screen-based technology means many are not getting enough sleep. Research has suggested teenagers need nine hours' sleep to function properly. "Sleep is fundamentally important but despite this it's been largely ignored as part of our biology," said Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford University. "Within the context of teenagers, here we have a classic example where sleep could enhance enormously the quality of life and, indeed, the educational performance of our young people. "Yet they're given no instruction about the importance of sleep and sleep is a victim to the many other demands that are being made of them." At One Level Up, an internet cafe and gaming centre in Glasgow, I found a group of young people who are used to very late nights. "There's things called 'grinds' which we have on Saturdays which are an all-nighter until 10 in the morning," said 17-year-old Jack Barclay. "We go home, sleep till 8pm at night and then do the exact same thing again. I like staying up." Fourteen-year-old Rachel admitted occasionally falling asleep in class because she stayed up late at night playing computer games. "If it's a game that will save easily I'll go to bed when my mum says, 'OK you should probably get some rest', but if it's a game where you have to go to a certain point to save I'll be like, 'five more minutes!' and then an hour later 'five more minutes!', and it does mess up your sleeping pattern. BBC © 2013
By Geoffrey Mohan If you can’t quite get that nine-note treble opening to "Fur Elise," just sleep on it. The brain will rehearse, reorganize and nail the sequential motor tasks that help you play piano or type on a keyboard. How that consolidation of memory happens has remained largely a mystery, despite telling evidence that the brain’s motor cortex appears to be quite busy during sleep. Now, a team led by Brown University neuroscientists believes it has found the source of the sleeping piano lesson, and it’s not where many expected it to be. Neuroscience has been fixated since its founding on why the brain “needs” that peculiar mix of dormancy and random activity known as sleep. And it equally wondered why we emerge from it better able to do things. Slowly, evidence accrued that we were “learning” during sleep -- consolidating memory in ways that would make waking tasks more successful. It seemed deepest sleep, not the familiar rapid-eye-movement type, had the most effect on our brain’s abilty to reorganize and prepare to perform better in waking hours. “It has been very difficult to measure brain activation during sleep,” said Brown University neuroscientist Masako Tamaki, lead author of the study published online Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience. “So it was unclear what brain region was involved.”
by Douglas Main, LiveScience Staff Writer Rock-a-bye owlet, in the treetop … Baby owls and baby mammals, including humans, sleep in an analogous manner, spending a similar amount of time in an awakelike phase called REM (rapid-eye movement), in which dreams are thought to occur, at least during adulthood, new research suggests. In both owls and humans, REM sleep decreases with increasing age. Baby humans spend about 50 percent of their snooze time in this REM phase, whereas that figure decreases to less than 25 percent in adults, according to a statement from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. (Applying the REM term to owls, whose eyes are fixed in their heads, may seem a stretch, but researchers use the phrase anyway.) In the new study, published in July in the journal Frontiers in Zoology, the researchers attached electroencephalograms (EEGs) and movement data loggers to 66 young barn owls to record how much time the animals spent in REM sleep and how much they moved while snoozing. They later removed the EEGs, which measure brain waves, and found that the birds mated normally and didn't appear to have suffered any negative effects from the devices, the statement noted. (7 Ways Animals Act Like Humans) "During this sleep phase, the owlets' EEG showed awakelike activity, their eyes remained closed, and their heads nodded slowly," said University of Lausanne researcher Madeleine Scriba in the statement. © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC.
By Scicurious It’s something we feel we’ve always known: if you can’t sleep, you need to exercise more. Wear yourself out, make yourself good and tired, you’ll sleep like a baby! So when I started having trouble sleeping, I just figured I needed to work out more. Of course, it kind of figures that often, you have trouble sleeping because of life stress, which often means you’re really busy, which in turn means it probably puts MORE stress in your life just trying to find the time to work out. But that’s just details. So sometimes, when I catch myself constantly waking up in a panic over several days, I’ll fit in some hard exercise. Maybe I’ll go for a long run, or try a really hard new class or something. By the time I go to bed I am WIPED. Physically and mentally. My body is so exhausted that the feeling of lying down is one of total bliss. …so why can’t I SLEEP?!?! Turns out I was suffering under expectations that were a little too high for reality. First off, we’re not wrong. Exercise DOES improve sleep. It does. But not necessarily immediately. And perhaps, instead, we should ask a different question. Instead of asking how exercise impacts sleep, perhaps we should ask how sleep impacts exercise. The authors of this study were looking at exercise and sleep, especially in the elderly. We all sleep less as we get older, but chronic insomnia is a different beast entirely. When we don’t get enough sleep, we get snappish, have trouble concentrating, suffer from daytime sleepiness, and are more susceptible to things like getting sick, or getting in to accidents. © 2013 Scientific American
Link ID: 18533 - Posted: 08.20.2013
By Brady Dennis, Insomniacs of the world: If you think taking a long run today will make you sleep better tonight, think again. While exercise has long been a prescription for insomnia, new research suggests that exercise doesn’t immediately translate into a better night’s sleep — unless you stick with it for months. A study published Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that aerobic exercise can lead to more rest at night for people who suffer from existing sleep problems, but only if they maintain an exercise regimen for roughly four months. “Exercise isn’t a quick fix. . . . It takes some time and effort,” the study’s lead author, Kelly Glazer Baron, a clinical psychologist and director of the behavioral sleep program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said in an interview. “It’s a long-term relationship.” Studies have long suggested that aerobic exercise can contribute to better sleeping habits. But much of the research on the daily effects of exercise on sleep was conducted with healthy sleepers. Tuesday’s study, by contrast, looked at the long-term effects of exercise in people already suffering from sleep disorders. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
Link ID: 18526 - Posted: 08.19.2013
NICHOLAS SPITZER is a professor of neuroscience at the University of California. His research concentrates on the ways in which neurons take on specialised functions to enable signalling in the brain. He is editor-in-chief of BrainFacts.org, a public information service about the brain and nervous system, and is instrumental in the BRAIN Initiative, a research project backed by the White House to advance new technologies to help map the brain. What do you know about the brain that the rest of us don’t? The structure and function of the brain are determined by genes and environment. We think we know this—it’s nature and nurture—but what many don’t realise is that this remains true throughout life. People think the brain is malleable only when we’re young. But that’s just not true. The forms of plasticity we see in the young brain are sustained in the mature brain. By plasticity I mean the ability of the brain to change its structure and function in response to changes in the environment. In addition to the classical ways the brain changes (the strength of the connections, synapses and neurons) we now understand a third kind of brain plasticity in which the neurotransmitter molecules—the signals from one neuron to another—can actually switch. What does this mean for human development? Our experiments have mainly been done on adult rats. A finding that is directly related to the human condition is that putting the animals on different photoperiods [day and night cycles] changes the neurotransmitter identity in the hypothalamus [a part of the brain] and this changes the animal’s behaviour. When animals are on a short day (rats are nocturnal so a short day is good) they make dopamine, the reward chemical. On the long day the neurons switch from dopamine to somatostatin, which retards growth. © The Economist Newspaper Limited 2013.
Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 18516 - Posted: 08.17.2013
By KATIE THOMAS The first test for a new sleep drug is — unsurprisingly — how safely it puts people to sleep. Now comes a second test: how safely it lets people wake up. The Food and Drug Administration is taking heightened interest in the issue, as new evidence suggests what many people have long suspected: the effects of common prescription sleep aids like Ambien can persist well into the next day. Of particular concern is whether people who take the drugs before bed can drive safely the next morning. Consumer advocates have warned for years about possible links between sleep drugs and car accidents. In one prominent example, Kerry Kennedy, the former wife of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, was arrested last year after tests showed she had taken a sleep aid before swerving her car into a tractor-trailer. The F.D.A.’s actions are part of a robust national conversation about how to cope with the throngs of drivers who take to roads every day under the influence of prescription drugs. Law enforcement authorities have struggled with how to prosecute those who are impaired, especially when they have a prescription. A government survey in 2007 found that nearly 5 percent of daytime drivers tested positive for prescription or over-the-counter medications. Doctors wrote close to 60 million prescriptions for sleep aids in the United States last year, according to the research firm IMS Health, but experts say testing how these drugs affect driving is not easy. Nonetheless, the F.D.A. has been unusually active. Last month, it rejected an application by Merck to approve a new sleep drug, suvorexant, in part because tests showed that some people had trouble driving the next day. In May, the agency warned patients taking common allergy drugs like Benadryl against driving, noting that the sedating effects can sometimes last into the following day. In January, citing similar concerns, the F.D.A. took the unusual step of requiring that all manufacturers of zolpidem, the generic name of Ambien, cut in half the dosage for women. © 2013 The New York Times Company
By Bahar Gholipour Girls with anorexia may tend to have traits that are usually found in people with autism, a new study suggests. Researchers compared 66 teen girls who had anorexia with about 1,600 girls who did not have the eating disorder, using questionnaires they had previously developed to assess thinking and personality types in children with autism. Girls with the eating disorder anorexia may tend to have traits usually found in people with autism. The girls with anorexia were found to have more interest in systems and order, and lower scores in empathy — a profile more similar to people with autism than to typical adolescents, the researchers said. The finding suggests the two conditions may share certain features, such as rigid attitudes and behaviors, a tendency to be very self-focused and a fascination with detail, the researchers said. “Traditionally, anorexia has been viewed purely as an eating disorder. This is quite reasonable, since the girls’ dangerously low weight and their risk of malnutrition or even death has to be the highest priority” for treatment, said Simon Baron-Cohen, a professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in England. But his study suggests that “underlying the surface behavior, the mind of a person with anorexia may share a lot with the mind of a person with autism,” Baron-Cohen said. People with both conditions have a strong interest in organizational systems; girls with anorexia are intensely interested in the system that governs body weight, shape and food intake, he said. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
Some colors humans are exposed to late at night could cause symptoms of clinical depression. That is the conclusion of a study that builds on previous findings that individuals exposed to dim levels of light overnight, such as from a glowing television set, can develop signs of clinical depression. Investigators, curious as to whether the color of light contributed to depressive symptoms in humans, designed an experiment that exposed hamsters to different colors. They chose hamsters because they are nocturnal, meaning they sleep during the day and are active at night. One group of hamsters was kept in the dark during their nighttime period. Another group of rodents was exposed to blue light and a third group slept in the presence of white light. A fourth group of hamsters was exposed to glowing red light. After four weeks, researchers noted how much sugary water the hamsters drank. The more depressed rodents consumed the least amount of water. Randy Nelson, chair of Ohio State University’s Department of Neuroscience and co-author of the study, said animals that slept in blue and white light appeared to be the most depressed. “What we saw is these animals didn’t show any sleep disruptions at all but they did have mucked up circadian clock genes and they did show depressive phenotypes whereas if they were in the dim red light, they did not,” Nelson said. Nelson explained that photosensitive cells in the retina, which don’t have much to do with vision, detect light and transmit signals to the master circadian clock in the brain that controls the natural sleep-wake cycle.
By Bora Zivkovic Sharks are not known for being good at running in running wheels. Or hopping from one perch to the other in a birdcage. Which is why, unlike hamsters or sparrows, sharks were never a very popular laboratory model for circadian research. The study of fish came late into the field of chronobiology due to technical difficulties of monitoring rhythms, at the time when comparative tradition was starting to make way to the more focused approach on choice model organisms – in this case, the zebrafish. But the comparative tradition was always very strong in the field. Reading the old papers (especially review papers and loooong theoretical papers) by the pioneers like Jurgen Asschoff and Colin Pittendrigh, it seems like researchers at the time were just going around and saying “let me try this species…and this one…and this one…”. And there were good reasons for this early approach. At the time, it was not yet known how widespread circadian rhythms were – it is this early research that showed they are ubiqutous in all organisms that live at or close to the surface of the earth or ocean. Another reason for such broad approach to testing many species was to find generalities – the empirical generalizations (e.g,. the Aschoff’s Rules) that allowed the field to get established, and that provided a template for the entire research program, including refining the proper experimental designs. © 2013 Scientific American
Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 18474 - Posted: 08.08.2013
By ANAHAD O'CONNOR Losing sleep tends to make people eat more and gain weight, and now a new study suggests that one reason may be the impact that sleep deprivation has on the brain. The research showed that depriving people of sleep for one night created pronounced changes in the way their brains responded to high-calorie junk foods. On days when the subjects had not had proper sleep, fattening foods like potato chips and sweets stimulated stronger responses in a part of the brain that helps govern the motivation to eat. But at the same time, the subjects experienced a sharp reduction in activity in the frontal cortex, a higher-level part of the brain where consequences are weighed and rational decisions are made. The findings suggested that one unfortunate result of sleep loss is this “double hit” in brain activity, said Matthew P. Walker, an author of the study and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley. A sleepy brain appears to not only respond more strongly to junk food, but also has less ability to rein that impulse in. Some experts have theorized that in a sleep-deprived state, people eat more food simply to make up for all the calories they expend as they burn the midnight oil. But the new study showed that the changes in brain activity were evident even when the subjects were fed extra food and not experiencing any increased sensations in hunger. “Their hunger was no different when they were sleep deprived and when they had a normal night of sleep,” Dr. Walker said. “That’s important because it suggests that the changes we’re seeing are caused by sleep deprivation itself, rather than simply being perhaps more metabolically impaired when you’re sleep deprived.” Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
By Meghan Rosen A short camping trip could help people rise and shine. After a week living in tents in Colorado’s Rockies, volunteers’ internal clocks shifted about two hours earlier, transforming night owls into early birds, researchers report August 1 in Current Biology. “It’s a clever study, and it makes a dramatic point,” says Katherine Sharkey, a sleep researcher and physician at Brown University. People get much more light outside than they do indoors, and that can reset their internal clocks, she says. A master clock in the brain controls the release of melatonin, a hormone that prepares the body for sleep. Melatonin levels rise in the early evening and then taper off in the morning before a person wakes up. But because so many people spend their days indoors and their nights bathed in the glow of electric lights, the body’s clock can get out of sync. Melatonin levels ramp up later in the evening and ebb later in the morning — often after a person has woken up. The lingering sleep hormone can make people groggy. Kenneth Wright Jr., a sleep researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder, and colleagues whisked eight volunteers away from artificial lights for a summer camping trip. After nightfall, the campers used only campfires for illumination — no flashlights (or cellphones) allowed. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2013
Keyword: Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 18445 - Posted: 08.03.2013
Sleepless night, the moon is bright. People sleep less soundly when there's a full moon, researchers discovered when they analyzed data from a past sleep study. If you were tossing and turning and howling at your pillow this week, you’re not necessarily a lunatic, at least in the strictest sense of the word. The recent full moon might be to blame for your poor sleep. In the days close to a full moon, people take longer to doze off, sleep less deeply, and sleep for a shorter time, even if the moon isn’t shining in their window, a new study has found. “A lot of people are going to say, ‘Yeah, I knew this already. I never sleep well during a full moon.’ But this is the first data that really confirms it,” says biologist Christian Cajochen of the University of Basel in Switzerland, lead author of the new work. “There had been numerous studies before, but many were very inconclusive.” Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that people’s sleep patterns, moods, and even aggression is linked to moon cycles. But past studies of potential lunar effects have been tainted by statistical weaknesses, biases, or inconsistent methods, Cajochen says. Between 2000 and 2003, he and his colleagues had collected detailed data on the sleep patterns of 33 healthy volunteers for an unrelated study on the effects of aging on sleep. Using electroencephalograms (EEG) that measure brain activity, they recorded how deep and how long each participant’s nightly sleep was in a controlled, laboratory setting. Years after the initial experiment, the scientists were drinking in a pub—during a full moon—and came up with the idea of going back to the data to test for correlations with moon cycles. © 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science.
By Scicurious We all know we should get more sleep, we’re just not very good at it. In fact, we’re so BAD at it that 28.3% of us (as of 2007, anyway) got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. Really, are we surprised? After all, there are kids that wake up in the night, stress that keeps us awake, always more things to do, multiple jobs, and only so many hours in the day. But that lack of sleep can have some not so great effects on our bodies. It decreases things like cognitive performance, increases anxiety, and…it’s not good for our waistlines. Sleep loss is associated with higher caloric intake, when you can’t sleep you eat. But does this increased caloric intake translate to weight gain? The biggest positive point of this study on sleep restriction was how LARGE it was. When doing human studies that are not large scale surveys (which usually involve phone calls or mail in or online and therefore are less expensive) it costs a LOT of money to bring some people in to the lab to do nothing but hang out and sleep for a week, especially if you are watching for things like food intake (and controlling what they eat). I’m very pleased that they got these numbers, 225 people! The authors took these 225 people, and brought them into the lab. They got two baseline nights (to see how much they naturally slept), 5 sleep restriction nights, and then another 2 recovery nights. But unfortunately, they did not balance the control and sleep restriction, where they were restricted down to FOUR HOURS a night of sleep (ick). They only had 27 controls out of all of these (people allowed to sleep fully all the nights of the study), the rest were sleep restriction. I have to wonder why they did it this way. While the two original nights and the two recovery nights could in theory serve as a partial control, I don’t think that those would work. After all, if most people are slightly sleep restricted, the original two nights will be recovery as well, and both sets of recovery nights may not be representative of optimal sleep. © 2013 Scientific American
By Scicurious It seems like the worst sort of cycle. The less sleep you get, the less effective you are. Then you have more to do, get more stressed, and stay up trying to get it all done (or lie awake stressing about it). The next day, less sleep, and even more anxiety. The ironic part is that you might not be quite so anxious…if you could just get some SLEEP. The authors of this study wanted to look at anxiety responses in people, and how they were affected by lack of sleep. To do this, you need 19 healthy participants, an fMRI machine, a test of anxiety…and way to keep people up all night. How do you assess anxiety responses? Start with cues, and then give outcomes. You can see the layout of the studies above. The participants were placed in an fMRI scanner. During the recording, they were shown signs, followed by stimuli. If they got a negative sign, they would always get a negative stimuli (a man with a gun, which is plenty good enough to provoke an anxiety response). If they got a zero sign, they got a normal stimuli (a doorknob. Nothing scary there). If they got a question mark, they have a 50% chance of getting the negative stimulus. This question mark gives you an ambiguous stimulus, you don’t know what to expect. They had the participants go through the series of stimuli in two conditions: rested and sleep deprived. And when they sleep deprived them, BOY did they. Many sleep deprivation studies will restrict sleep to, say, 4 hours the night before the study, or 5. Not these guys. No, they had the participants pull an all-nighter! © 2013 Scientific American
by Kelly Servick It almost seems like a mystical correlation. Babies conceived at certain times of the year appear healthier than those conceived during other times. Now, scientists have shown that the bizarre phenomenon is actually true—and they think they may know why it happens. The work is "a really long-overdue analysis," says economist Douglas Almond of Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. "This is maybe not quite a smoking gun," he says, "but it's much stronger than the previous evidence." As early as the 1930s, researchers noticed that children born in winter were more prone to health problems later in life: slower growth, mental illness, and even early death. Among the proposed explanations were diseases, harsh temperatures, and higher pollution levels associated with winter, when those expectant mothers and near-term fetuses might be most vulnerable. But recently, as economists looked at demographics, the picture got more complicated. Mothers who are nonwhite, unmarried, or lack a college education are more likely to have children with health and developmental problems. They are also more likely to conceive in the first half of the year. That made it hard to tease out the socioeconomic effects from the seasonal ones. Economists Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt of Princeton University took a new approach to resolving this long-standing question, using data from the vital statistics offices in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania about births between 1994 and 2006. To control for socioeconomic status, their study looked only at siblings born to the same mother. And lo and behold, seasonal patterns persist, they report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science