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Exercise 3. Now divide into pairs or small groups and read about each method. Then tell other students what you have read about. Try not to miss any detail.



Mice that run on wheels increase the number of neurons in their hippocampus and perform better on tests of learning and memory. Studies of humans have revealed that exercise can improve the brain’s executive functions (planning, organizing, multitasking, and more). Exercise is also well known for its mood-boosting effects, and people who exercise are less likely to get dementia as they age. Among those who are already aged, athletic senior citizens have better executive function than do those who are sedentary; even seniors who have spent their entire lives on the couch can improve these abilities just by starting to move more in their golden years. You don’t need to be Chuck Norris (thankfully) to get the brain benefits of exercise. Studies of senior citizens have shown that as little as 20 minutes of walking a day can do the trick.

A variety of mechanisms might be responsible for this brain boost. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which also increases the delivery of oxygen, fuel and nutrients to those hard-working neurons. Research has shown that exercise can increase levels of a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which encourages growth, communication and survival of neurons. Exercise also improves sleep quality, a pile of studies suggests. And immune function. Is there anything it can’t do?



The brain needs fuel just as the body does. So what will really boost your brainpower, and what will make you lose your mind? Saturated fat, that familiar culprit, is no better for the brain than it is for the body. Rats fed diets high in saturated fat underperformed on tests of learning and memory, and humans who live on such diets seem to be at increased risk for dementia.

Not all fat is bad news, however. The brain is mostly fat—all those cell membranes and myelin coverings require fatty acids—so it is important to eat certain fats, particularly omega-3 fats, which are found in fish, nuts and seeds. Alzheimer’s disease, depression, schizophrenia and other disorders may be associated with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. It is especially important that babies get enough fat. Babies who don’t get enough of the stuff have trouble creating the fatty myelin insulation that helps neurons transmit signals. Luckily for babies, breast milk is 50 percent fat.

Fruits and vegetables also appear to be brain superfoods. Produce is high in substances called antioxidants, which counteract atoms that can damage brain cells. Researchers have found that high-antioxidant diets keep learning and memory sharp in aging rats and even reduce the brain damage caused by strokes. That’s food for thought.

It’s not just what you eat that affects the brain. It’s also how much. Research has shown that laboratory animals fed calorie-restricted diets—anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less than normal—live longer than other animals do. And it turns out they also have improved brain function, performing better on tests of memory and coordination. Rodents on calorie-restricted diets are also better able to resist the damage that accompanies Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.



Stimulants are substances that rev up the nervous system, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, energy, breathing and more. Caffeine is probably the most famous of the group. (It is actually the most widely used “drug” in the world.) By activating the central nervous system, caffeine boosts arousal and alertness. Although high doses of caffeine can undoubtedly have unpleasant effects (ranging from irritability, anxiety and insomnia to the most unpleasant of all: death in rare cases), small to moderate amounts can boost our mental functioning in ways researchers are now measuring. One study showed that the equivalent of two cups of coffee can boost short-term memory and reaction time. Functional MRI scans taken during the study also revealed that volunteers who had been given caffeine had increased activity in the brain regions involving attention. In addition, research suggests caffeine can protect against age-related memory decline in older women. But try to limit yourself to fewer than 100 cups a day. That much coffee contains about 10 grams of caffeine, enough to cause fatal complications.

Cocaine and amphetamines are less benign. Although they work on the brain through different mechanisms, they have similar effects. Taking them increases the release of some of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters—including dopamine and serotonin—and produces a rush of euphoria. They also increase alertness and energy. That all sounds pretty good, but cocaine and amphetamines are extremely addictive drugs and in high doses they can cause psychosis and withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms are nasty and can lead to depression, the opposite of that euphoric feeling. And of course, an overdose can kill you.



Video games could save your life. Surgeons who spend at least a few hours a week playing video games make one-third fewer errors in the operating room than nongaming doctors do. Indeed, research has shown that video games can improve mental dexterity, while boosting hand-eye coordination, depth perception and pattern recognition. Gamers also have better attention spans and information-processing skills than the average Joe has. When nongamers agree to spend a week playing video games (in the name of science, of course), their visual-perception skills improve. And strike your notions of gamers as outcasts: one researcher found that white-collar professionals who play video games are more confident and social.

Of course, we cannot talk about the effects of video games without mentioning the popular theory that they are responsible for increasing real-world violence. A number of studies have reinforced this link. Young men who play a lot of violent video games have brains that are less responsive to graphic images, suggesting that these gamers have become desensitized to such depictions. Another study revealed that gamers had patterns of brain activity consistent with aggression while playing first-person shooter games. This does not necessarily mean these players will actually be violent in real life. The connections are worth exploring, but so far the data do not support the idea that the rise of video games is responsible for increased youth violence.



When you turn on Queen’s Greatest Hits, the auditory cortex analyzes the many components of the music: volume, pitch, timbre, melody and rhythm. But there’s more to music’s interaction with the brain than just the raw sound. Music can also activate your brain’s reward centers and depress activity in the amygdala, reducing fear and other negative emotions. A highly publicized study suggested that listening to Mozart could boost cognitive performance, inspiring parents everywhere to go out and buy classical CDs for their children. The idea of a “Mozart effect” remains popular, but the original study has been somewhat discredited, and any intellectual boost that comes from listening to music seems to be tiny and temporary. Nevertheless, music does seem to possess some good vibrations. It can treat anxiety and insomnia, lower blood pressure, soothe patients with dementia, and help premature babies to gain weight and leave the hospital sooner.

Music training can bolster the brain. The motor cortex, cerebellum and corpus callosum are all bigger in musicians than in nonmusicians. And string players have more of their sensory cortices devoted to their fingers than do those who don’t play the instruments. There is no agreement yet on whether musical training makes you smarter, but some studies have indeed shown that music lessons can improve the spatial abilities of young kids.



Meditation, or the turning of the mind inward for contemplation and relaxation, seems to help all types of conditions—anxiety disorders, sure, but it can also reduce pain and treat high blood pressure, asthma, insomnia, diabetes, depression and even skin conditions. And regular meditators say they feel more at ease and more creative than nonmeditators do. Researchers are now illuminating the actual brain changes caused by meditation by sticking meditators into brain-imaging machines. For one, although the brain’s cells typically fire at all different times, during meditation they fire in synchrony. Expert meditators also show spikes of brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain that has generally been associated with positive emotions. And those who had the most activity in this area during meditation also had big boosts in immune system functioning.

Meditation can increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex, particularly in regions associated with attention and sensation. (The growth does not seem to result from the cortex growing new neurons, though—it appears that the neurons already there make more connections, the number of support cells increases, and blood vessels in that area get bigger.) (From Scientific American, February, 2009)


Exercise 4. Do you agree with the recommendations given? Comment on each method suggested.


Exercise 5. Do you know any other methods that can help you to increase brainpower?



Unit 7. Sleep



Sleep covers a Man all over, Thoughts and all, like a Cloak; ’tis Meat for the Hungry, Drink for the Thirsty, Heat for the Cold, and Cold for the Hot.

Miguel de CervantesDon Quixote


Sleep remains one of the great mysteries of modern neuroscience. We spend nearly one-third of our lives asleep, but the function of sleep still is not known. Fortunately, over the last few years researchers have made great headway in understanding some of the brain circuitry that controls wake-sleep states. Scientists now recognize that sleep consists of several different stages; that the choreography of a night’s sleep involves the interplay of these stages, a process that depends upon a complex switching mechanism; and that the sleep stages are accompanied by daily rhythms in bodily hormones, body temperature and other functions.

Sleep disorders are among the nation’s most common health problems, affecting up to 70 million people, most of whom are undiagnosed and untreated. These disorders are one of the least recognized sources of disease, disability and even death, costing an estimated $100 billion annually in lost productivity, medical bills and industrial accidents. Research holds the promise for devising new treatments to allow millions of people to get a good night’s sleep.


Exercise 1. What do you know about sleep?

1. What is sleep? What processes take place in human organism during sleep?

2. What processes take place in the human brain during sleep?

3. How long does sleep last? What stages does it include?

4. What sleep disorders do you know?

5. Are you an early bird or a night owl? What other sleep habits do you have?

Exercise 2. Is sleep primarily to benefit the body or the mind? Read the following text to find the answer.

Why Do We Sleep?

By C. Claiborne Ray

“Sleep has many functions, and most of us think the main functions are not for the body but for the brain,” said Dr. Arthur Spielman, a sleep expert at City College of New York. “But,” he added, “you are talking to a brain scientist, and it depends on whom you ask.’’

The reason sleep occurs in the first place is tied to both mental and physiological cycles that evolved on a planet with a 24-hour cycle of light and dark, Dr. Spielman said. The internal biological clocks that developed in living things, from single cells to humans, allow them to anticipate the transitions from light to dark and from dark to light, so that they are ready for the functions appropriate to light, like metabolism and photosynthesis, and for those suited to darkness. “A physiologist might say sleep was to avoid wasting metabolic energy in the dark,’’ he said. “But a brain scientist would say that glycogen, the only fuel for the brain, is depleted during waking and restored during sleep.”

Sleep is useful for restoring particular parts of the brain that are quiet during sleep and return to functioning during waking, like the areas involved in attention, alertness and memory. Sleep is also important for regulating the timing of hormones under the control of the brain, Dr. Spielman said, like cortisol, the stress-response hormone, which is suppressed at the beginning of sleep and ramps up in anticipation of waking, and growth hormone, which is secreted at night during sleep characterized by slow brain waves. (August 15, 2006 NY Times)

Exercise 3. Read the chapter about sleep taken from the book Brain Facts: a Primer on the Brain and Nervous System, 2002 to check your answers in Exercise 1.

The Stuff of Sleep

Sleep appears to be a passive and restful time when the brain is less active. In fact, this state actually involves a highly active and well-scripted interplay of brain circuits to produce the stages of sleeping.

The stages of sleep were discovered in the 1950s in experiments examining the human brain waves or electroencephalogram (EEG) during sleep. Researchers also measured movements of the eyes and the limbs during sleep. They found that over the course of the first hour or so of sleep each night, the brain progresses through a series of stages during which the brain waves progressively slow down. The period of slow wave sleep is accompanied by relaxation of the muscles and the eyes. Heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature all fall. If awakened at this time, most people recall only a feeling or image, not an active dream.

Over the next half hour or so, the brain emerges from the deep slow wave sleep as the EEG waves become progressively faster. Similar to during waking, rapid eye movements emerge, but the body’s muscles become almost completely paralyzed (only the muscles that allow breathing remain active). This state is often called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, there is active dreaming. Heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature become much more variable. The first REM period usually lasts ten to 15 minutes.

Over the course of the night, these alternative cycles of slow wave and REM sleep alternate, with the slow wave sleep becoming less deep, and the REM periods more prolonged, until waking occurs.

Over the course of a lifetime, the pattern of sleep cycles changes. Infants sleep up to 18 hours per day, and they spend much more time in deep slow wave sleep. As children mature, they spend less time asleep, and less time in deep slow wave sleep. Older adults may sleep only six to seven hours per night, often complain of early wakening that they cannot avoid, and spend very little time in slow wave sleep.


Sleep disorders

The most common sleep disorder, and the one most people are familiar with, is insomnia. Some people have difficulty falling asleep initially, but other people fall asleep, and then awaken part way through the night, and cannot fall asleep again. Although there are a variety of short-acting sedatives and sedating antidepressant drugs available to help, none of these produces a truly natural and restful sleep state because they tend to suppress the deeper stages of slow wave sleep.

Excessive daytime sleepiness may have many causes. The most common are disorders that disrupt sleep and result in inadequate amounts of sleep, particularly the deeper stages. These are usually diagnosed in the sleep laboratory. Here, the EEG, eye movements and muscle tone are monitored electrically as the individual sleeps. In addition, the heart, breathing, and oxygen content of the blood can be monitored.

Obstructive sleep apnea causes the airway muscles in the throat to collapse as sleep deepens. This prevents breathing, which causes arousal, and prevents the sufferer from entering the deeper stages of slow wave sleep. This condition can also cause high blood pressure and may increase the risk of heart attack. There is also an increased risk of daytime accident, especially automobile accidents, which may prevent driving. Treatment is complex and may include a variety of attempts to reduce airway collapse during sleep. While simple things like losing weight, avoiding alcohol and sedating drugs prior to sleep, and avoiding sleeping on one’s back can sometimes help, most people with sleep apnea require positive airway pressure to keep the airway open. This can be provided by fitting a small mask over the nose that provides an air stream under pressure during sleep. In some cases, surgery is needed to correct the airway anatomy.

Periodic limb movements of sleep are intermittent jerks of the legs or arms, which occur as the individual enters slow wave sleep, and can cause arousal from sleep. Other people have episodes in which their muscles fail to be paralyzed during REM sleep, and they act out their dreams. This REM behavior disorder can also be very disruptive to a normal nights’ sleep. Both disorders are more common in people with Parkinson’s disease, and both can be treated with drugs that treat Parkinson’s, or with an anti-epileptic drug called clonazepam.

Narcolepsy is a relatively uncommon condition (one case per 2,500 people) in which the switching mechanism for REM sleep does not work properly. Narcoleptics have sleep attacks during the day, in which they suddenly fall asleep. This is socially disruptive, as well as dangerous, for example, if they are driving. They tend to enter REM sleep very quickly as well, and may even enter a dreaming state while still awake, a condition known as hypnagogic hallucinations. They also have attacks during which they lose muscle tone, similar to what occurs during REM sleep, but while they are awake. Often, this occurs while they are falling asleep or just waking up, but attacks of paralysis known as cataplexy can be triggered by an emotional experience or even hearing a funny joke.

Recently, insights into the mechanism of narcolepsy have given major insights into the processes that control these mysterious transitions between waking, slow wave and REM sleep states. (From Brain Facts: a Primer on the Brain and Nervous System, 2002)


Exercise 4. Work in small groups. Write out from the text 15 key word combinations which will help you to retell the text and explain your choice. Then together agree on the final list of word combinations.


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Text B. Modern Horses Have Many Origins | Exercise 5. In the following text the paragraphs are mixed. Put them in the correct logical order. The first and the last paragraphs are in their right places.
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