Webinar recap | Keeping Mentally Fit with Adrian Owen, PhD: Brain Insights From 25+ Years of Cognitive Testing

Video recap and answers to questions below

In this exclusive Medcan webinar, Dr. Adrian Owen, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at The Brain and Mind Institute and author of Into The Gray Zone, shared the lessons learned through 30 years of research on the brain.

His research combines neuroimaging (MRI and EEG), with cognitive studies in brain-injured patients and healthy participants. The live webinar recorded on January 25, 2018 focused on how he tests cognition and memory to the latest science regarding what affects the brain. Participants learned about the impact of sleep, fitness, brain exercises, music and nutrition on one of our most mysterious organs.

You can watch the full presentation at the bottom of this post.

Following the presentation, Dr. Owen answered some questions that he didn’t have the chance to answer during our allotted time. Please find them below.

Q: Dr Owen, what is the level of acceptance by the global scientific community of the integrated C-score indicator of the Cambridge Brain Sciences?

The C-Score is a quick estimate of overall cognitive function that is unique to Cambridge Brain Sciences. The tests on the CBS site that result in a C-Score are the same classic neuropsychological tests mentioned in my talk, and widely used by the global scientific community. However, the C-Score itself is still new and currently exclusive to individuals who measure their cognition on the Cambridge Brain Sciences platform.

Q: Would Dr. Owen’s data suggest that commerical platforms like Lumosity or Fit Brains are not “improving” our cog. function? i.e. are not evidence-based?

That’s exactly right. While commercial brain training is a nice idea, the evidence for it just isn’t there. Our paper in Nature with over 10,000 people training for six weeks found that there was no effect of training, other than getting better at tasks you practice at. We’re in the process of analyzing some real-world data with similar results.

Q: How can 7.6 hours be optimal when we sleep in 90 minute cycles?

If we sleep in 90 minute cycles, then 7.6 hours is almost exactly 5 cycles! That works out well. However, if that sounds a little too perfect, it probably is. When we talk about averages, whether it’s a 90 minute cycle or our finding that 7.6 hours of sleep is best on average, it doesn’t necessarily apply to an individual person. Nature is much more messy than exact numbers. So you can’t expect perfect 1.5-hour cycles for every person, or for 7.6 hours of sleep to be optimal for every person. That’s why I emphasize measuring your own cognition, using tools like Cambridge Brain Sciences, to find the lifestyle adjustments that will benefit you, even if you’re not 100% average.

Q: a) is the Cambridge Brain Science site still functioning and are the tests still available. If so, are the average or typical scores made available so you can determine where you fit in the range? Finally, are there other online tests that are available that you would recommend?

Yes, we’ve completely revamped the Cambridge Brain Sciences site and all the tests to make it compatible with mobile devices and much prettier. Anybody can create an account at http://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com to take tests and match up scores with lifestyle factors such as sleep, exercise, and stress. Community scores are summarized, and you can get percentile scores to see exactly how you stack up to other users.

Q: Does sleep need to be continuous hours of sleep? How naps in the afternoon would impact?

We didn’t look at naps in our sleep study, but my understanding of the literature is that naps can be beneficial for alertness and cognition, particularly if they are making up for reduced sleep during the night. If you’re already getting your ideal amount of sleep at night, then I’m not sure a nap would benefit your brain, but if you’re like most people and not always getting enough, then a good nap can help make up for it.

Q: Does occasionally taking Zopiclone negatively affect sleep quality?

I wouldn’t want to lead anyone astray by addressing questions outside my areas of expertise. People with severe trouble sleeping should see a medical doctor to discuss drug options and their side effects.

Q: sleep is often classified between “deep sleep” and light sleep. How much “deep sleep” is optimal or necessary within the 7.6 hours of total sleep?

Different stages of sleep serve different purposes, so there is some nuance in how much of each stage is necessary. For example, research suggests that deep slow-wave sleep plays a role in consolidating memories. Disruptions to sleep, such as drugs or waking up a lot, can affect the proportion of deep sleep in a given night, which affects some aspects of cognition. The good news is that our bodies are pretty good at making up for disruptions, so that if you miss out on deep sleep one night, you’ll get a greater proportion of deep sleep the next night to return to the optimal amount.

Q: thank you for this talk

You’re very welcome!

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