Using Light to Improve Sleep and Depression

November 13, 2018 · Posted in Current Treatments, Risk Factors · Comment 
blue-blocking glasses

Blue-blocking glasses

At the 2018 meeting of the North Carolina Psychiatric Association, researcher Chris Aiken described the phenomenon of sleep inertia, when people are awakened from deep sleep by an alarm, rather than waking at the end of a sleep cycle, and are groggy for 15 minutes. Depressed people may stay groggy for 4 hours. A dawn simulator may help. These lights turn on gradually over the course of 30 to 60 minutes, reaching 250 lux while the patient is still asleep. Dawn simulators have worked in eight out of ten controlled clinical trials to help people with seasonal affective disorder, adolescents, and normal adults wake up more easily. They range in cost from $25 to $90 and some brands include PER2LED or LightenUp. Aiken says dawn simulators can improve depression, sleep quality, and cognition.

Evening and nighttime light: Bright lights and blue light, like the light that comes from electronic screens, can shut down the body’s secretion of melatonin, making people awake and alert in the evening when they should be getting sleepy. Dim light or glasses that filter out blue light allow increases in melatonin secretion in the evening, while bright light suppresses it. Missing this early melatonin pulse creates “night owls” who have delayed sleep onset.

Because light still reaches our eyes through our eyelids as we sleep, even low-level light during the night impairs sleep, cognition, and learning, and increases the risk of depression by a hazard ratio of 1.8 (about double the risk). A 2017 study by Kenji Obayashi in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that bedroom light above 5 lux elevated rates of depression in older adults after two years of followup. Living room light averaged around 50 lux and increased depression further.

Lux chart

A slide from Aiken’s presentation shows comparative levels of light

The treatment is turning off TVs, electronic screens, and cellphones in the evening or wearing blue-blocking glasses, which can be found for less than $10. Blue-blocking glasses can increase calmness and reduce anxiety, and even are effective in treating mania. Then, during sleep, wear an eye mask or get light-blocking blinds or curtains for windows. For a complete blackout, use blackout curtains, aluminum foil over windows, electric tape over LED lights, or try sleeping in the basement.

Aiken suggests that to re-instate healthy sleep patterns, people should institute virtual darkness from 6pm to 8am, including wearing blue-blocking glasses when out of bed. Then they should institute total darkness or wear an eye mask when in bed. When symptoms improve, this routine can gradually be shifted to begin later in the evening, such as two hours before bedtime.

Blue light filters are also available for smartphones and tablets including Apple Nightshift mode, Kindle BlueShade, and Android Twilight and Blue Light Filter.

Glasses that filter out blue light include Uvex Ultraspec 2000, 50360X ($7 on Amazon) and Uvex Skyper 351933X ($7-10 on Amazon). The website lowbluelights.com sells blue-blocking glasses from $45 and a variety of other blue-free lighting products such as lightbulbs and flashlights.

Bright light therapy for unipolar and bipolar depression: 30 minutes of bright light (7,500 to 10,000 lux) in the morning can help treat depression in unipolar and bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder. The effects usually take 3 to 7 days to set in, but they only last while a patient continues using the bright light in the morning. Researcher Dorothy K. Sit and colleagues found that bright light therapy in the morning sometimes caused hypomanic reactions in people with bipolar disorder, and reported in a 2018 article in the American Journal of Psychiatry that midday light therapy (from noon to 2:30pm) was also effective without this unwanted effect. However, a 2018 article by Ne?e Yorguner Küpeli and colleagues in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested that a half hour of morning light for two weeks was sufficient to bring about improvement in 81% of patients with bipolar disorder and did not cause serious side effects.

Melatonin regimen for sleep onset delay: Melatonin can be used to treat severe night-owls with a very late onset of sleep (for example, going to bed at 2 or 3am and sleeping late into the morning). Melatonin can help with sleep onset to some extent when used at bedtime, but in those with an extreme phase shift, researcher Alfred J. Lewy recommends a regimen of low dose priming with 400–500 micrograms of melatonin at 4pm and then a full dose of 3 milligrams of melatonin at midnight. The 4pm priming dose helps pull back the delayed onset of the body’s secretion of melatonin toward a more normal schedule.

Grape Extract May Improve Cognition

January 31, 2018 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Polyphenolic compounds in colored fruits and vegetables are thought to improve memory and cognition. Extracts from Vitis vinifera, the grape species that includes almost all well-known varieties of wine, have been found to have many beneficial effects: antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidiabetic effects, in addition to protective effects on skin, the heart, the liver, and neurons.

For about a decade, researchers have known that polyphenolic compounds from grapes could improve cognitive impairment and reduce neuropathological lesions in the brain in animals with a model of Alzheimer’s disease. New research suggests that the same compounds that protect the plant against damage, fungus, or UV rays may also protect the human brain against damage.

Researchers led by Gioacchino Calapai tested a trademarked nutritional supplement called Cognigrape, which includes extracts from Vitis vinifera, in healthy adults between the ages of 55 and 75 in Italy. One group of 57 participants received 250mg of Cognigrape per day while the other group of 54 received placebo once a day for twelve weeks. Several weeks after the supplementation period, the group taking Cognigrape showed significant improvement in cognitive function compared to baseline and compared to the group taking placebo. The Cognigrape group also showed significant reductions in depression symptoms, improvements in somatic symptoms, and improvements in attention, language, immediate memory, and delayed memory. This is the first study to find an improvement in cognitive performance in humans after supplementation with a Vitis vinifera extract.

The study by Calapai and colleagues was published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology in 2017.

High-Dose Vitamin D May Improve Cognition More Than Low-Dose Vitamin D

August 16, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

Woman taking vitaminVitamin D deficiency has been associated with dementia and cognitive decline, but supplements may help. In a study of 82 healthy individuals with low vitamin D levels, high-dose vitamin D supplements (4000 IU/day) improved visual/nonverbal memory more than did low-dose vitamin D supplements (400 IU/day) over 18 weeks.

The 2017 study took place in Canada, where short winter days can make it more difficult to get sufficient levels of vitamin D from sunlight. The higher-dose supplements raised blood levels of vitamin D compared with the lower-dose supplements.

Those who received the higher doses performed better at tests of visual memory such as the Pattern Recognition Memory Task and the Paired Associates Learning Task, but their performance on tests of verbal memory was not significantly different from those in the lower-dose group. This suggests that higher vitamin D levels are particularly important to visual/nonverbal memory.

The study by Jacqueline A. Pettersen was published in the journal Experimental Gerontology.

Antipsychotic Drug Pimavanserin Seems to Reduce Psychosis in People with Alzheimer’s

August 1, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

elderly womanThe antipsychotic drug pimavanserin was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year as a treatment for hallucinations and delusions in Parkinson’s disease. Now it looks as though it may also help people with Alzheimer’s disease. Pimavanserin works differently than other antipsychotic medications—a selective serotonin inverse agonist, it acts at serotonin HT2A receptors to produce effects opposite to those that serotonin would produce at the same receptor.

In a trial of 181 patients with Alzheimer’s and psychotic symptoms, those who received 34 mg/day of pimavanserin had a significant improvement in psychotic symptoms in six weeks compared to those who received placebo.

Over 12 weeks of treatment, pimavanserin did not impair cognition, as atypical antipsychotics can do.

Pimavanserin was well tolerated. The most common side effects were falls, urinary tract infections, and agitation. Like other atypical antipsychotics, the drug carries a box warning from the FDA that there is an increased risk of death when the drug is used to treat older people with dementia-related psychosis.

The FDA has designated pimavanserin a breakthrough therapy and is giving it priority review. These designations can speed up the development and review of a drug and are granted when a drug looks like it will be substantially better or safer than existing treatments for a serious condition.

Treatment with Hormone EPO Improved Cognition in People with Unipolar and Bipolar Disorder

January 10, 2017 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

improved cognition

People with unipolar depression and bipolar disorder may experience cognitive difficulties, even when they’re not currently depressed. In a study published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology in 2016, researchers led by Caroline Vintergaard Ott determined that treatment with the hormone erythropoietin (EPO) may help.  EPO is produced in the kidney and increases the production of hemoglobin and red cells.

Seventy-nine participants with unipolar or bipolar disorder were randomized to receive infusions of either EPO or a saline solution once a week for eight weeks. By the end of the study, those who received EPO showed significant improvements in the speed of their complex cognitive processing compared to those who received saline. EPO is known to induce the production of red blood cells. The improvements in processing speed lasted for at least another six weeks after red blood cell production would have normalized.

Those participants who received EPO not only had improved scores on tests of processing speed, they also reported fewer cognitive complaints. The EPO treatment was most likely to be effective in participants who had more impaired cognition at the beginning of the study.
In previous research by the same research group presented by Kamilla W. Miskowiak at the 2014 meeting of the International Society of Bipolar Disorders, EPO also improved sustained attention and recognition of happy faces.

Inactivity in Young Adulthood May Worsen Cognition Later in Life

September 22, 2016 · Posted in Risk Factors · Comment 

inactivity can worsen cognition later in life

The couch potato lifestyle common in the US may have consequences later, in the form of deficits in memory, executive functioning (including planning and execution) and processing speed.

At the 2015 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference, researcher Kristine Yaffe and colleagues reported that low levels of physical activity and high rates of television viewing in young adulthood may reduce cognitive capabilities in midlife.

The Centers for Disease Control report that less than 50% of adults aged 18–64 get the recommended minimum of physical activity each week. The guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity (such as walking briskly) and two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups.

Yaffe says that physical activity can protect against cognitive decline or dementia later on.
Participants in the long-term study who reported burning fewer than 300 calories per 50-minute session three times per week during two-thirds of their followup visits had worse cognition at year 25 than those participants who were more active. Those who watched more than four hours of television per day also had reduced cognition in midlife.

Yaffe stresses that exercising regularly is not just important in keeping weight down and protecting the heart, but also in protecting the brain. Regular physical activity may even prevent illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Guanfacine Improves Cognition in Schizophrenia

April 19, 2016 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

cognitive function in schizophrenia

People with disorders on the schizophrenia spectrum often suffer cognition problems that affect skills such as the processing of information about people and social situations (social cognition) and the execution of plans (executive function). At the 2015 meeting of the Society for Biological Psychiatry, researcher Larry J. Siever reported that the drug guanfacine improved these types of thinking in people with disorders on the schizophrenic spectrum compared to placebo. Participants were enrolled in a 7.5-week training program to improve cognition.

Exercise Improves Cognition and Normalizes Brain Activity

February 12, 2016 · Posted in Potential Treatments · Comment 

exercise improves cognition

Exercise isn’t just good for the body—new research suggests it can improve cognition and normalize brain activity.

At the 2015 meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, researcher Benjamin I. Goldstein reported that 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on a bike improved cognition and decreased hyperactivity in the medial prefrontal cortex in adolescents with and without bipolar disorder.

At the same meeting, researcher Danella M. Hafeman reported that offspring of parents with bipolar disorder who exercised more had lower levels of anxiety.

A plenary address by James J. Hudziak also suggested that exercise, practicing music, and mindfulness training all lead to improvements in brain function and should be an integral part of treatment for children at high risk for bipolar disorder and could be beneficial for all children.

Editor’s Note: Recognizing and responding to mood symptoms is key to the prevention and treatment of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents at high risk for the illness. For these young people, exercise, a nutritious diet, good sleep habits, and family psychoeducation about bipolar disorder symptoms may be a good place to start. Joining our Child Network may also be helpful.

Approaches to Restoring Cognition in Unipolar and Bipolar Depression

January 26, 2016 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

Many people with bipolar disorder suffer cognitive difficulties, and these may progress as a function of the number of mood episodes they experience. At the 2015 meeting of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders, researcher Eduard Vieta described the importance of directly prescribing diet, exercise, good sleep hygiene, smoking avoidance, and cognitive exercises designed to maintain cognitive reserves in people with bipolar disorder. Vieta stressed that one of the most important approaches to maintaining cognition is to help patients achieve and maintain remission. He also noted that those patients with lithium levels of .6meq/l or greater did not see cognitive deterioration.

Some treatments for bipolar disorder can contribute to cognition problems. Topiramate and benzodiazepines can impair cognition, as can atypical antipsychotic drugs and certain antidepressants that block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Avoiding these treatments and those with sedative side effects may also be helpful.

Vieta listed a series of drugs with some promise for improving cognition. (These did not include treatments for dementia, which include memantine and a group of drugs that increase acetylcholine by inhibiting its breakdown.)

This editor (Robert M. Post) has taken the liberty of giving a letter grade (A to D) to each drug on Vieta’s list on the basis of the strength of the data supporting its efficacy, its safety and tolerability, and its overall usefulness for patients with bipolar disorder. These recommendations, like other material in the BNN, are subjective and likely to change as more systematic studies on these treatments are published.

drugs that improve cognition

New Data on Vortioxetine for Cognition in Unipolar Depression

November 5, 2014 · Posted in Current Treatments · Comment 

woman thinking

A 5mg dose of the antidepressant vortioxetine (Brintellix) was previously reported to have positive cognitive effects in elderly depressed patients. In a 2014 article in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, researcher Roger S. McIntyre et al. presented data from FOCUS, a study of cognition in depressed patients. The eight-week double-blind study included 18- to 65-year-olds (who were not selected for having cognitive problems per se).

McIntyre and colleagues used two tests of cognition, the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST), which measures attention, psychomotor speed, and executive function, and the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), which measures memory and acute and delayed recall. The researchers found that both the 195 patients taking 10mg/day of vortioxetine and the 207 patients taking 20mg/day of vortioxetine had better performance on both tests than the 196 patients who received placebo.

Response rates (meaning a patient achieved a 50% improvement on a scale of depression) were 47.7% on 10mg of vortioxetine, and 58.8% on 20mg of vortioxetine, compared to 29.4% on placebo. Remission rates were 29.5% on 10mg of vortioxetine and 38.2% on 20mg of vortioxetine versus 17% on placebo. McIntyre suggested that the drug worked both directly and indirectly, improving depression in some, but also improving cognition even in those whose depression did not improve.

The mechanism that could account for vortioxetine’s cognitive effects has not yet been identified. Like other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, vortioxetine is a potent blocker of serotonin (5HT) reuptake, which it does by inhibiting the serotonin transporter (5HT-T). Unlike other SSRIs, vortioxetine is also a blocker of 5HT3 and 5HT7 receptors, an agonist at 5HT1A and 5HT1B and a partial agonist at 5HT1D receptors. It could be considered a polymodal 5HT active drug in contrast to the more selectively active 5HT-T–inhibiting SSRIs.

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