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Fried Lettuce, Slug Entrails and Other Insomnia Cures

Today's insomnia cures are slightly more scientific than the back in the day. But they're also less interesting, which is why we've rounded up some of the weirder insomnia treatments handed down through the ages. From what to rub on your feet, to what to line your belly with, here are 6 bizarre prescriptions for when you're tired of counting sheep.

1. Rub Your Feet in Dormouse Fat

In Elizabethan England, people who couldn't sleep would often rub dormouse fat onto the soles of their feet. Why dormouse and why feet has been lost to the ages, however, the dormouse has retained its snoozy image: The dormouse slept through most of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland.

2. A spoonful of Sea Slug Entrails

Most cultures have their own folk remedy, usually involving food, for putting insomniacs to sleep. I remember when I was a little girl, my mom would make me hot chocolate when I couldn't sleep. Little girls in Japan, however, might have gotten a plate full of sea slug entrails. In France, it could have been fried lettuce and in places in the US, a raw onion.

3. Pay to Hear a Sleep Concert?

A new craze is sweeping Japan and while there's always a new craze sweeping Japan, this one may offer some hope to sleepless office workers. They're called sleep concerts: Basically, you buy a ticket to the concert, plunk yourself down in a comfy seat, and drift off. One such concert, titled "Dreams: Good Sleep Concert," featured major Japanese musicians playing music that had been scientifically tested to induce sleep; a CD of the concert was later sold and won Japan's 22nd annual Gold Disc Award for Best Instrumental Album of the year in 2008.

4. Ancient Ambien

Sleepless Greeks and Egyptians used opium, typically mixed with several other herbs that probably had no effect, to induce sleep. The only problem with opium is the highly addictive nature of the poppy-derived narcotic. But drugs have always played a part in helping people sleep: Cannabis, typically smoked in cigarette form, was a popular sleep aid up through the 19th century. Some, especially those in college or who maybe spent some time touring with the Grateful Dead, might say it still is. And when all else fails, there's the time-honored tradition of drinking until you pass out.

5. Toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble

Potions have long been a part of the insomniac's medicine cabinet. Tinctures made from valerian root, mandrake root, and lettuce seeds are a few of the debatably helpful but generally innocuous variety, whilst the Middle Ages prescription of "drinking a potion made from the gall of a castrated boar" is just gross. Incidentally, the castrated boar juice was also included in a concoction to knock victims "“ er, patients "“ about to undergo surgery in the Middle Ages as well. So many uses for castrated boar gall, who knew?

6. Carry a compass to bed with you

In the Victorian era, people tended to be interested in slightly dubious spiritualist theories, including those involving magnetic fields and their impact on human health. Charles Dickens, who suffered from insomnia and for a time, tried a combination of opium and alcohol that left him with a wicked hangover, ultimately found relief after placing the head of his bed due north.

Ed note: We couldn't have written this article without help from Sean Coughlin's book, The Sleepyhead's Bedside Companion. And the image comes from those wonderful Serta sheep commercials.

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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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Just 5 Alcoholic Drinks a Week Could Shorten Your Lifespan
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Wine lovers were elated when a scientific study last year suggested that drinking a glass of wine a day could help them live longer. Now a new study, published in The Lancet, finds that having more than 100 grams of alcohol a week (the amount in about five glasses of wine or pints of beer) could be detrimental to your health.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation studied the health data of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries and found that five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week (yes, red wine included) could shave six months off the life of a 40-year-old.

The penalty is even more severe for those who have 10 to 15 drinks a week (shortening a person’s life by one to two years), and those who imbibe more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives. In other words, your lifespan could be shortened by half an hour for every drink over the daily recommended limit, according to The Guardian, making it just as risky as smoking.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years' lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life," David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the study, tells The Guardian. "This works out at about an hour per day. So it's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette."

[h/t The Guardian]

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