Ask Ms. Scientist: Gray hair and sleep coughs

Why does hair turn gray?

Lydia Z.

College stress makes me feel like my hair could go prematurely gray, but why it goes gray is an interesting question. First off, your hair color is determined by something called melanin. Melanin is the chemical that your pigment cells produce to give you your unique hair color. In fact, without melanin, your hair would be completely white! For the first few decades of our life, our cells produce melanin normally. However, as we age, our pigment cells start to die without being replenished, so less and less melanin is produced over time. Consequently, gray hair is a result of reduced melanin in our hair pigment cells. No one really knows exactly what causes our pigment cells to die off or stop producing melanin. There is some evidence that suggests our genetics play a role in it, but it is unclear what exact genes are influencing graying or how early or how late we start the graying process.

Why do I cough more when I sleep?

Jackson P.

Night coughing is a terrible curse. We have all been there. We are abruptly woken up from our hard earned slumber and forced to fumble around in the dark for our water bottles. What is the culprit for this phenomenon? When it comes to coughing fits at night, gravity is to blame. During the day, the purpose for coughing is to clear mucus and other related materials from the lining of our throats. Coughing can be a nuisance during the day, but a nightmare when we go to bed. When a person lays down, the mucus begins to pool in our throat, and the gastroesophageal reflex kicks in. resulting in coughing. The best way to avoid losing sleep over coughing fits is to prop the head up with a pillow. This will stop mucus from collecting in the throat. Also, avoid dry environments that can easily aggravate the nose and throat.

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