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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(12):2422

Does having a better education help you sleep at night? According to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, it does—for women. Data were analyzed from a national study that followed the social trends of almost 40,000 people in Taiwan. Researchers assessed insomnia criteria and scored the study data on a scale of 1 to 5. In general, the researchers found that insomnia was more common among women than men. However, women with higher education levels were able to fall asleep faster and were better able to sleep through the night undisturbed. Men in the same situation had higher insomnia scores and were less likely to have a good night's sleep. The reasons for these results are unclear. (J Epidemiol Community Health, June 2005)

If it seems that men just aren't listening, there could be a physical explanation. Results of a study recently published in NeuroImage show that the human brain processes male and female voices differently—and men use different parts of the brain to “hear” them. The study found that men use the “mind's eye” in the back of the brain to understand other men's voices. Female voices are more complex in vibration and sound waves than male voices and therefore activate the brain's auditory area and require more brain activity. Men can hear female voices more clearly, but their brains may tire quickly from processing their complexity. The study also gives insight into why people who hallucinate usually hear male voices: it is easier for the brain to create a false voice in the mind's eye rather than in the more complex auditory region. (NeuroImage, September 2005)

Exercise in middle age may be the key to fighting Alzheimer's disease. The authors of a study published in the Lancet Neurology selected 1,449 participants 65 to 79 years of age who had been surveyed at midlife. Participants who had been physically active at least twice a week at the first survey had a more than 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia and a more than 60 percent lower incidence of Alzheimer's disease later in life, irrespective of other risk factors. Scientists think that physical activity keeps the brain flexible in old age, thereby decreasing the risk of developing neurologic diseases. The authors point out a limitation of the study: participants who exercised regularly also lived longer than those who did not. (Lancet Neurol, early online release, October 2005)

Surgeons may soon have to make room for clowns in the operating room. A recent study in Pediatrics shows that children who are in the presence of a clown prior to surgery have reduced levels of stress before the procedure. Sixty percent of children have preoperative anxiety, which has been identified as a predictor of postoperative complications that can persist for up to six months after surgery. Having a clown in the room before and during induction of anesthesia significantly reduced anxiety for the 40 children in the study, as well as for their parents. However, physicians reported being annoyed by the clowns and voted to discontinue having them in the hospital. Researchers suggest a dialogue between the medical staff and clowns to minimize interference with operating room procedures. (Pediatrics, October 2005)

Good liars have abnormal brains, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Study participants were considered liars if they met several test criteria and had admitted to lying to get out of work. After magnetic resonance imaging, physicians found that, on average, the liars had about 25 percent more prefrontal white matter and 14 percent less gray matter than people in the control group. The prefrontal region is involved in moral decision making, and the increased amount of white matter indicates more nerve connections, therefore increasing the ability to lie. The decreased amount of gray matter inhibits a liar's power to control the impulse to lie. (Br J Psychiatry, October 2005)

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