For Sleep but Sleepless in Lake Arrowhead, California

For the past week, I have been residing in high altitude at the UCLA-owned resort of Lake Arrowhead, California in the San Bernardino Forest (and mountains) near LA. I was attending a scientific and professional development workshop devoted to sleep research, grantsmanship, responsible conduct of research, and networking. The theme of the workshop was “translational validity in sleep research” meaning that the focus was on appropriate animal models of sleep and disease states. The workshop has been going on for nearly 30 years organized, funded, and hosted through the efforts of Dr. Michael Chase of UCLA. Holy cow was it spectacular. I can see why my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Mary Carskadon, uses Michael’s retreat as a model for her annual retreat.

The trip began with a short trip to Manhattan Beach, its epic dining, and the Santa Monica Pier where I showed those beach boys that they really aren’t as strong as their muscles make them out to be.

When we arrived in Lake Arrowhead, we immediately began to dive into intellectual discussion. We went over and critiqued common methods to sleep deprive animals. We weighed the pros and cons of common animal models of sleep and disease, namely the fly, rat, mouse, and even cat. We even talked about the pros and cons of staying ahead of the curve. The general consensus is that it is never good to put the cart before the horse; that optogenetics and chemogenetics, two sexy approaches in neuroscience that I have discussed previously, are worthless in time and money if you do not have a sufficient hypothesis and supporting rationale. Also, using these tools is not a priori for getting funded. We also learned about some transfection techniques for activating neurons and measuring neuron activity by transfecting a rabies virus or using a recording electrode covered in a lipophilic (fat-loving) material, enabling it to be sucked up by the neuron’s membrane.

On the morning of the second day, I organized a morning boot camp. One of the workshop’s organizers, Dr. Mark Opp, had the brilliant idea to do our workouts on the zen deck. Not a bad view, eh? The zen deck was the meeting spot for our morning boot camp/bro sessions for the rest of the meeting. On the second day, I also got too cocky (and stupid) in the pool and smashed my nose on the bottom of the deep end after doing a perfect front tuck into a dive.

The Zen Deck

The scientific sessions of the workshop continued with discussions of appropriate measures of sleep homeostasis. The obvious candidates are NREM sleep saturated with slow wave activity, but Dr. Ron Szymusiak presented evidence for physiological phenomena relevant to sleep homeostasis that have been overlooked. Basically, his lab examined the firing rates of neurons in two sleep-promoting nuclei of the hypothalamus, the ventrolateral and median preoptic nuclei. Typically, these nuclei are less active during wake and even forced wakefulness, and more active during spontaneous sleep or recovery sleep after sleep deprivation. Thankfully, Ron found that this is not entirely true because a tipping point from low to high rates of firing in these nuclei can occur across an episode of forced wakefulness. I am thankful for this data set because it addresses a concern that I have had with a data set of mine that I am hoping to be publish soon.

We also had an evening discussion on ethics. Each discussion began with a short skit. Here is the skit that my group and I performed to exaggerate very inappropriate relationships between mentor and mentee.

About halfway through the conference, we were introduced to the EUREKA grant writing proposals. Basically, we were given 36 hours to write AND present an R21 (NIH system) grant that would allow for two years of work and $250,000 in allowance (excluding whatever indirect costs the university took which is normally around 50%). The committee did a fantastic job of spreading out areas of research focus, or maybe it was just a coincidence. Our group had an interesting mix of expertise and personality. However, we were able to overcome an initial mental block in proposing a hypothesis-driven research question. Our proposal aimed to investigate how sleep deprivation could further worsen brain connections and cognitive and motor learning after a stroke. At the end of the day, our grant proposal won, although all of the proposals were impressive for the short time allotted! For our winning efforts, we got a bottle of Glenvelvet.

Presenting our grant

Winners of the EUREKA grant with their prize!

Without a doubt, this workshop was one of the best smaller conferences in animal research that I have ever attended. It presented many opportunities to ask questions, respectfully refute opinions, and to remove the typically intimidating barrier between PIs and trainees.  The countdown til the next workshop is on.

A non-invasive system to replace EEG/EMG recording of sleep

This week, we resumed our biweekly journal club in sleep and circadian rhythms for the year. I presented a paper published last week in the journal Sleep. It was more of a methods papers, but still important because non-invasive tools for measuring sleep have become best-sellers: FitBit, Zeo, and other Nike/iPod-based physical activity software. This new technology that I talked about in journal club is reserved only for rodents although the researchers state that it could eventually transform the human sleep laboratory. The system, known as the piezoelectric system, has been around for about a decade, but has really only been used by selective groups. However, now that the system is commercially available (Signal Solutions), there may be more papers using it to record sleep. Hopefully, these researchers are cautiously doing so as I will explain why.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe hardware of the piezo system is fairly straightforward. There is a polymer “mattress” placed under a light layer of bedding on which the animals move around, groom, sleep, eat, drink, etc on. This polymer is connected to a box that encases the animals’ cages. The box also contains many tiers of infrared beams to measure general locomotion. Basically, the amount of mechanical pressure generated from movement and breathing is proportional to the amount of electric signal generated. These two variable–mechanical pressure and electrical signals–are assigned a score that is above or below a “wake” threshold shown here. The lower the positive score, the deeper the stage of sleep and the higher the negative score, the more intense the stage of wake.

Basically, these researchers found that the temporal distribution of sleep and wake across multiple days is largely in agreement between this system and the traditional EEG/EMG system that also requires someone to score each individual epoch of recording, a process that can take hours to days.

Decision Statistic determining sleep or wake

There were some concerns about over-reporting sleep during the light or rest phase of rodents as well as the system being a poor measure of particular EEG waveforms characteristic of each state of sleep and wake.

Temporal distribution of sleep and wake with EEG and this new non-invasive piezo system

But for the most part, I do think this is an ideal system for high-throughput research requiring quick sleep-wake analysis in hundreds of mice. It also removes human error of scoring sleep records out of the equation. Obviously, there are some limitations as to what types of studies should rely on the piezo system alone. Personally, I think it is ideal for high-throughput studies of drug screens. If you are interested in gross changes in sleep from baseline levels, then sure. But if you are trying to identify a new model of sleep dysfunction then this system may not be sufficient enough to accurately identify brief awakenings as sleep or wake. Regardless, I do hope to see more studies using this type of recording technology soon.

Mang GM, Nicod J, Emmenegger Y, Donohue KD, O’Hara BF, & Franken P (2014). Evaluation of a piezoelectric system as an alternative to electroencephalogram/ electromyogram recordings in mouse sleep studies. Sleep, 37 (8), 1383-92 PMID: 25083019

Galen may have been (partly) right.

You may recall learning bits and pieces of ancient psychiatric history in some physiology or psychology course. I am referring to the four temperaments proposed by Galen who believed that four bodily fluids were uniquely responsible for some aspect of human behavior: blood, bile, black bile, and phlegm. After Galen, the medical and psychiatric community ResearchBlogging.orgbecame cerebral-centric, believing that most aspects of human behavior manifested from operations of the brain and feedback with other parts of the body. The best example would be reflexes and muscle memory which don’t really require the brain but simply the spinal cord.

Thankfully, some scientists have reverted back to hypotheses proposed in ancient medical texts. The most recent incidence was this year when scientists in California did blood transfusions and gave mice systemic injections of another mouse’s blood to study whether biological factors in the blood control the rate of neurodegeneration. Ponce de Leon would have been proud.

In this study, the researchers created a parabiotic mouse which means that these researchers made a post-natal Siamese mouse for the purpose of having a young adult mouse share a circulatory system with an aged mouse. I can only imagine the amount of surgical skill that it requires to do this in a mouse! In a second set of experiments, aged mice were injected with the blood of young mice. In both cases of blood transfusion or systemic injection of plasma, the rate of neurodegeneration was slowed in aged mice that had been introduced to young adult blood. Nothing happened when aged blood was introduced into another aged mouse. Because of the journal in which the study was published in–Nature–it is no surprise that this protection from neurodegeneration was confirmed at many levels, behaviorally, electrophysiologically, histologically, and molecularly.

Moreover, the experimental design of this study has paved a path to investigate many other neurological events that may be controlled by biological factors circulating in the blood. Even Steven Colbert agrees. You know you’ve made it in science when your sh*t ends up on the Daily Show or Colbert Report to be poked fun of.

The Colbert Report
Get More: Daily Show Full Episodes,Indecision Political Humor,The Colbert Report on Facebook 

Villeda, S., Plambeck, K., Middeldorp, J., Castellano, J., Mosher, K., Luo, J., Smith, L., Bieri, G., Lin, K., Berdnik, D., Wabl, R., Udeochu, J., Wheatley, E., Zou, B., Simmons, D., Xie, X., Longo, F., & Wyss-Coray, T. (2014). Young blood reverses age-related impairments in cognitive function and synaptic plasticity in mice Nature Medicine, 20 (6), 659-663 DOI: 10.1038/nm.3569

It’s Crossfit Games Week: #Pandanation, #AllBridgers, and #Jetlag

Years worth of training, competition, and trust come to fruition this weekend as my teammate, training partner, and friend competes for the title “Fittest on Earth.”  I’ve talked about the Crossfit Games and the journey that it takes to get there many times before. Last year, I had the opportunity to compete on a team with Emily in the Games. This year, I cheer on Emily Bridgers from Atlanta, regretting not being there in person to support (because science calls). Emily is going to impress everyone this weekend–fans, judges, coaches, other athletes, and the ESPN networks.

Pandanation celebrating Emily's Regionals win


While athletes are prepping for the Games, I bet many of them overlook one important variable: jet lag. The Games are in California but represent teams from around the world. Jet lag can have residual effects on rhythms of physiology and behavior beyond just a day. Depending on the direction and extent of travel, it can sometimes take a week to adjust, mentally and physically. With that, I provide an excerpt from my book that is due on bookshelves within the next year–Meathead. This particular chapter discusses the impact of jet lag on game day performance.

“There actually is a handful of information on jetlag, sleep deprivation, and their consequences on athletic performance. Most of the laboratory-based studies have focused on shifts in rhythms of melatonin and CBT, which are easy to measure with little invasiveness. As I discussed earlier in the chapter, the relationship between CBT, sleepiness, and mental and physical performance is intimate; drops in CBT increase sleepiness which lead to declines in mental and physical performances. With a new light schedule, especially one that is more than a few hours ahead or behind, the release of melatonin—the “hormone of darkness” that is sensitive to light— is suppressed and the normal afternoon and early morning dips in CBT occur earlier or later. Obviously, both of these physiological shifts wreak havoc on sleep and performance by keeping people up at night, waking people up too early, and causing a lack of focus and energy throughout the day. In fact, one study has compiled a breakdown of motor and mental skills that suffer from insufficient sleep driven by game day travel; for low-aerobic sports that require high levels of alertness and fine motor skills like sailing and archery, there’s more room for error. For team sports that require high levels of concentration, there’s poorer decision-making. For individual sports with a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic movements like swimming, mixed martial arts, and weightlifting, there’s a loss of power and quicker time to fatigue. Although these symptoms and changes in our body’s physiology from game day travel across time zones eventually disappear, the problem is that it takes at least a few days for the body to adapt. For professional baseball and basketball players, this is an unresolvable problem because many teams are already on their way to a new time zone to play another team. As an example, the 2012 NBA season, which was truncated by contract agreements, had more game-day travel than in year’s past to make up for lost inter-conference playing time. The season was also plagued by poor refereeing, increased amounts of injuries, and complaints of constant exhaustion. Although no empirical studies were undertaken, sports pundits and researchers like me believe that jet lag and constant weekday and weekend game travel were the culprits28.

In the field of sleep research, we often talk about “sleep debt” which refers to any negative deviation from your body’s desired amount of nightly sleep. So if your body requires 8 hours and 20 minutes of sleep a night (the human average), but you only get 7 hours, you will need to make up that 1 hour and 20 minutes at some point. If we short-change ourselves 1-2 hours of sleep for a few days once a year, this isn’t a big deal. We may be sleepy for a few days, but we will rebound quickly. But if we are depriving ourselves of 1-2 hours of sleep a few times a week for months or years, we aren’t getting quality sleep. This is largely because our body full of clocks keeps getting exposed to different light-dark cycles, which is a serious problem. Under these circumstances of chronic sleep deprivation, our sleep debt creeps up on us whenever we aren’t socially stimulated such as when we are driving, watching a movie, or standing around in the outfield. Even if we aren’t sleepy per se, our minds are slower due to individual neurons going offline at random intervals to “rest,” and our physiological rhythms of growth hormone which acts to repair damaged and maintain healthy tissue can be suppressed. This is one of many reasons why game travel in collegiate and professional sports communities should be re-evaluated or more carefully planned with the help of researchers in sleep and circadian rhythms.

Does the length and direction in which we travel also make a difference? That is, does performance suffer worse upon travel to the Pacific versus Mountain time zone from the East Coast, or do West Coast teams playing a night game at home have a physiological advantage over their East Coast opponents or vice versa? If you look at the regional distribution of professional NFL, NBA, and MLB teams across the US, nearly half the teams lie in the Eastern US time zone (Atlantic coast) while a majority of the others are in the Central or Pacific US time zones (Midwest or Pacific coast). Within a professional organization, there are two conferences that are not solely determined by region of the country; both the MLB and NFL are divided into American and National Leagues which each have teams on the West Coast(Oakland A’s for American and San Diego Padres for National) and East Coast (Boston Red Sox for American and New York Mets for National). This is particularly bothersome for Major League baseball players who play 2-4 games per week, sometimes in different time zones, versus a professional football player with one game on a Monday, Thursday, or Sunday. Luckily for us, researchers have investigated if the type of game (away versus home) and direction of travel (east versus west) impacts athletic and mental performance through careful examination of win-loss records, changes in individual statistics, and even a few questionnaires on sleep habits.

Even with mice and hamsters, the direction of travel makes a difference; mice have an easier time adjusting to delays in their light-dark cycle, whereas hamsters have an easier time adjusting to advances. This time zone preference actually isn’t random either, but rather explained by how closely biological clocks “tick” towards 24 hours. Because the biological clock of a mouse “ticks” slightly less than 24 hours, a delay in an environmental schedule would make their clocks “tick” at 24 hours. Meanwhile, because the biological clock of a hamster “ticks” slightly more than 24 hours, an advance in an environmental schedule would make their clocks “tick” at 24 hours. Human biological clocks are similar to those of a hamster in that they “tick” slightly longer than 24 hours. This is why most humans have an easier time with Western versus Eastern travel. Athletes are no different. One of the first studies to investigate athletic performance following East versus West Coast travel was determined from archived data of the 1996 collegiate (NCAA) football season; the University of Florida Gators were national champions that year. Overall, teams that traveled more than one time zone eastward performed consistently worse than teams traveling more than one hour westward: they scored fewer points, allowed more points, and had greater point spreads even when controlling for progress of the game: 1st quarter versus 4th quarter29.

In terms of whether travel to the Pacific coast versus Midwest for a New York Yankee matters, it does. In 2008, I learned about such a concern at our annual sleep conference held in Baltimore, Maryland through Dr. W. Christopher Winter at the University of Virginia who happened to have a research poster next to me. Dr. Winter and colleagues entered the scores of over 24,121 MLB games into a database that controlled for number of time zones travelled. Independent of direction, 60% of games were lost if the baseball player traveled three zones and 52% were lost for travel through two time zones. An 8% difference may not seem significant, but in the world of professional sports that can be the difference between finishing last in the league (and subsequently getting first pick in the next year’s draft) and vying for a pennant. These results–that athletic and mental performance suffer more as the number of time zones travelled increases–make biological sense because that extra hour of light (or dark) for one more time zone would mean that your body would need an extra day and sometimes more to adjust. However, there are many strategies for adapting quicker to a new time zone of which I’ll discuss next.

As for whether certain coastal teams have an advantage during night games–the games with the highest viewer ratings–this also matters. The sleep community of Stanford University conducted a carefully controlled examination of win-loss records across forty years of play in the NFL to determine if East Coast teams had a biological advantage over West Coast teams during a night game played on the East Coast or if West Coast teams had a biological advantage over East Coast teams during a night game played on the West Coast. Unlike previous studies, these researchers also factored in the Vegas point-spread which is carefully calculated: it is based on win-loss record, injury reports, historical matchups between the teams, weather, and whether it is an away versus home game plus many other variable. Therefore, a “win” in this Standford study was defined as winning the actual game and beating the Vegas point-spread. Unfortunately, East Coast teams are always at a disadvantaged when playing a night game with West Coast teams winning 70 out of the 106 night games played regardless of whether it was an away or home game. So even if an athlete is at a biological disadvantage to performing at their best due to game day location, can modern science and medicine help?



Neury Thursday: Mitochondria, neuron health, and sufficient sleep

This paper came out in the Journal of Neuroscience while I was at the Gordon Conference a few months ago. This week, a group did a summary of it in a unique section of the journal called journal club. Basically, it offers a different perspective/interpretation of the data without a loss of content.
In this study, the authors were interested in a structure of the brain stem that regulates sleep-wakefulness: the locus coreleus (LC). Neurons of the LC are considered wake-promoting. To see what happens to the health of these neurons with extended wakefulness, mice were woken up three hours on one day (acute) or eight hours earlier for three days (chronic); mice have a robust and predictable activity period around the lights-on/lights-off transition. Typically, sleep deprivation is done at the end of the night (lights-off/lights-on) so this approach is unique in itself.

With this experimental approach, the biomarker of neuron health that the researchers were concerned about was reactive oxygen species (ROS). Increases in ROS are indicative of harmful physiological stress and likelihood of neurodegeneration. As expected, a gradient of extended wakefulness increased ROS and a near 30% loss of neurons.

Obviously, we can include that sufficient sleep is important for neuron health. But what’s the mechanism? In follow-up experiments, the researchers were concerned with Sirt3–a biological factor of mitochondria–that shuttles byproducts of cellular respiration, namely NAD+. Mice lacking sirt3 had a neuron phenotype similar to mice deprived of sleep; increased ROS and 30% loss of LC neurons.

To conclude, this study adds to the body of evidence showing the neurobiological pathologies and mechanisms related to restricted sleep.

Fifel, K. (2014). Sirtuin 3: A Molecular Pathway Linking Sleep Deprivation to Neurological Diseases Journal of Neuroscience, 34 (28), 9179-9181 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1848-14.2014

The Refs are Biased, Neurologically.

I wrote this blog post during the last World Cup. As the semifinals near, I decided that it would be a perfect time to re-share.

Many of you may remember this lousy foul from the US vs Slovenia match.

Though I initially “jumped to conclusions” and assumed that it resulted from a hefty Slovenian bribe, a recent article in PLOS suggests the call may have resulted from a subconscious bias in reaction time and faulty conclusions of left and right directional movements.

UPenn researchers recruited soccer-knowledgeable fans to view still-frame replays from the English Priemership League (think David Beckham). This league was chosen because aside from David Beckham, ResearchBlogging.orgmany Americans are unfamiliar with the players and teams of this league in addition to limited television viewing within the US. This would reduce the chances of the participants recalling the final outcome of such a play and increase the chances of “unbiasing” directional bias. Kudos to these researchers for taking on the arduous task of blurring out players names and numbers on their jersey’s with Photoshop to eradicate further recall  (many of you are aware of my precipitous hatred for this program!).

Overall, these researchers found that Americans (i.e. individuals who read left to right) react quicker to events that unfold towards the right vs the left. Paradoxically, due to a slower reaction time to left-oriented POVs, participants were more likely to call (or catch) a foul.

I do find it interesting that despite having a slower reaction time to left directional play, fouls are more easily recognized and/or called on the left vs right side. Perhaps this ~100 ms reaction time delay to a left vs right directional play that is unfolding creates a “negativity bias” in that we assume the worst since we aren’t there to witness it….er react quickly enough  (just like we assume that the Slovenian government paid the referees because we weren’t personally there to see if money was slipped from one hand to another….humans love gossip!!!!!!)? Or perhaps the awkwardness of looking right to left causes us to fixate on the left-moving player longer, which leads us to more likely see suspicious activity? This is in contrast to the comfortability of looking left to right, much like reading which involves little fixation on the right-most word and a subsequent rapid transition to the next line. Do we view right directional plays similarly?

Regardless, it would be interesting if this study was replicated to compare cross-cultural differences in directional bias, particularly with societies that read right to left like Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. Then perhaps this information can be adopted by FIFA to balance cultural -specific POV and ensure a fairer game.

Kranjec A, Lehet M, Bromberger B, Chatterjee A (2010). A Sinister Bias for Calling Fouls in Soccer PLoS One, 5 (7) : 10.1371/journal.pone.0011667

For Jimmie

Two years ago, my cousin was in a life-changing accident. The throttle of his crotch rocket allegedly jammed hurling his passenger and him from his bike. No one knows if he would have been OK with or without a helmet, but he wasn’t wearing one and his brain suffered. Bikers, wear your helmets! Even if you are going to be late, it’s worth it.

Jimmie was a vivacious human being. There was never dull moment in his presence, even more so when my brother was around.
Stars of the Macedonian Convention

The two of them are the protagonists of many stories in Youngstown where we grew up and abroad. That being said, I half expect Jimmie’s calling hours to be sold out!

We love you Jimmie! We know you will keep Grandpa and Grandma entertained in heaven. Grandma may tie your arms around your back a few times but it will be OK.

SRBR 2014: Big Sky, Montana

Conference season continued this month with a week-long trip to the West Coast for the biennial Society for Research on Biological Rhythms meeting which was held in a new location: Big Sky, Montana. Words and pictures cannot describe the serenity and natural beauty of this place. During the many hikes that we took throughout the week, I was constantly reminded of how powerless humans are relative to environmental forces.

Glass lab hike to Oeuka Falls

If I would have taken one step further towards the roaring waterfall pictured below, I would not be writing this at the moment.

Chillin at the falls

The science of the meeting was absolutely wonderful. For me, the conference began with organizing and managing trainee day. This year the keynote speaker was Mich Hastings–former President of SRBR–who is well regarded as a scientist and educator. I really enjoyed Dr. Hastings journey to rhythms work which began on an unexpected, unchartered path of studying invertebrates at a marine biology research station. The most important take-home message of Dr. Hastings’ keynote was to remember that research comes before teaching, all the time. This is not to say that one should neglect their teaching responsibilities, but that at the end of the week, more time should be spent focusing and thinking about research questions over exam questions.

Crossfitting at high altitude

On Sunday, the regular scientific program of the conference began. While most of the talks were not as eloquent and well organized as those of the Gordon conference, there was a wide variety of fascinating work at the basic and translational levels. Somehow people are managing to keep funding rhythms research despite the fact that funding is at an ultimate low. The big focus of this meeting was SCN coupling–understanding how regions of the central circadian clock communicate with each other through the re-investigation of previous work and introducing new neural networks–as well as metabolomics: a buzzword for sure.

For me, my first oral presentation at an SRBR meeting went very well. I was extremely nervous because of speaking to an audience of experts, but the talk really captured interest in my research pursuits of understanding the mechanisms through which the muscle and the brain communicate to influence sleep. My datablitz was also a hit, poking fun of hashtags and Instagram selfies. Needless to say, my brain was overwhelmed by Tuesday evening. The highlight of the meeting was certainly the closing banquet where once again, the Glass lab made a statement. Just check out these pictures below. They may or may not be the most important mode of career development for someone on the job market.

The RABs of the meeting, holding it down

10s for sure

SLEEP 2014: Minneapolis

Nearly every May and June, it is “conference season” for me. A majority of our professional society meetings fall towards the end of the school year. This year is no different. Last week, I was in Minneapolis for the annual sleep meeting which brings together clinical and basic sleep researchers. Next week, I will be in Big Sky, Montana–a first–to attend the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms meeting.

The sleep meeting was a bigger surprise this year because the basic research community finally got paid attention to by the program committee. In years past, the program has been disproportionately focused on clinical research which is important, but it doesn’t represent the sleep community as a whole. Last year, many of us boycotted the annual sleep meeting (myself included) so perhaps it was noticed?

At any rate, Minneapolis is a great place to have a conference because there really isn’t much to do but go to the conference. Sure there are some unique pubs and bars here and there, but the site seeing is a little lacking. Although, I did manage to run along the Mississippi River one day.


Overall, the basic research overlapped with what was presented with Gordon. There were updates in the stories. Once again, I was blown away by the work and presentation of Dr. Mark Blumberg from the University of Iowa. His laboratory studies the functional significances of twitches during sleep, particularly REM sleep. As he has shown, it is near impossible to study how the brain encodes twitches during wake because of all the white noise. During sleep though, it is apparent that the twitches are picked up by areas of the thalamus. Following Dr. Blumberg’s talk, Dr. Markus Schmidt gave a monologue (of sorts) on his interpretation of why sleep is necessary and important. At one point in his life, Dr. Schmidt was an evolutionary biologist and so his energy allocation theory fits with this. In years past, sleep has been thought to exist for the preservation of energy. This is true to some extent. But think about all the processes that require attention paid to while asleep like tissue repair. This is an active, metabolic process, isn’t it?

The meeting would not have been complete without a visit to Chef Gordon Ramsey’s Hell’s Kitchen. One night I had kangaroo there. Apparently kangaroo meat is very high in protein and considered a humane meat source by Aussie ecologists. The second day I had a Juicy Lucifer which is a Minneapolis staple of hamburger meat rolled in cheese.

Learning to Breathe Fire: The History and Science of Crossfit

As a Regionals and Games competitor since the time that Crossfit started to earn the respect of a worldwide athletic company (Reebok) and television network (ESPN), it was enjoyable to re-live the experience through a talented journalist, JC Herz. I will admit that I am not an avid reader of history albeit political, social, or sports-related. I prefer to read popular science as a form of relaxation from my day job as a neuroscientist which is filled with reading highly technical scholarly works saturated with jargon that is rarely found in the OED. That being said, JC Herz has made me re-consider my selections of non-fiction. The level of detail coupled with the writing style of choice made me feel as if I was a spectator or even a fellow athlete during the early years of the Crossfit Games. JC Herz’s literary journey of the 2011 Crossfit Games accurately matched my first-hand experiences of seeing Iceland Annie and “The Champ” (Rich Froning) win their first titles.
JC Herz also did an excellent job combining the history of the sport of fitness with the physiology that underlies elite fitness. It is often a challenge as a scientist or non-scientist to accurately capture the complex physiology and anatomy that underlies athletic performance. JC Herz succeeded beautifully. As a final point, I really appreciated JC Herz’s focus on the heroes of the sport versus its champions. Some of my most emotional moments competing in Regionals and the Crossfit Games are from cheering on those individuals who are obviously struggling get those last few reps. This is the beauty of our sport and the reason why it is so attractive to military and first-responders: no man (or woman) is left behind. The active role that Crossfit plays in the military is another focus of the book and one that may make you shed a tear or two. To conclude, whether you are interested in the history, science, or ethos of Crossfit, “Learning to Breathe Fire” is a must-read for every Crossfitter and fitness enthusiast, beginner or elite.

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