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kottke.org posts about Sleep

What does sleep do?

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 20, 2018

sleep-max-richter-concert-paris-beds-post-minimalism.adapt.1900.1.jpg

Sleep may be the most important everyday phenomenon that we understand the least well. It’s like the oceans; it’s everywhere, but we’ve only explored the surfaces. But scientists are still working to establish better knowledge of what sleep does, how it works, and why every animal does it (and needs to do it). National Geographic has a very pretty and pretty thorough summary of the latest theories of sleep scientists on what we do when we fall asleep.

The waking brain is optimized for collecting external stimuli, the sleeping brain for consolidating the information that’s been collected. At night, that is, we switch from recording to editing, a change that can be measured on the molecular scale. We’re not just rotely filing our thoughts—the sleeping brain actively curates which memories to keep and which to toss.

It doesn’t necessarily choose wisely. Sleep reinforces our memory so powerfully—not just in stage 2, where we spend about half our sleeping time, but throughout the looping voyage of the night—that it might be best, for example, if exhausted soldiers returning from harrowing missions did not go directly to bed. To forestall post-traumatic stress disorder, the soldiers should remain awake for six to eight hours, according to neuroscientist Gina Poe at the University of California, Los Angeles. Research by her and others suggests that sleeping soon after a major event, before some of the ordeal is mentally resolved, is more likely to turn the experience into long-term memories.

It’s basically a maintenance cycle. At deeper levels of sleep, we’re literally cleaning away waste products of waking life in the brain.

Good sleep likely also reduces one’s risk of developing dementia. A study done in mice by Maiken Nedergaard at the University of Rochester, in New York, suggests that while we’re awake, our neurons are packed tightly together, but when we’re asleep, some brain cells deflate by 60 percent, widening the spaces between them. These intercellular spaces are dumping grounds for the cells’ metabolic waste—notably a substance called beta-amyloid, which disrupts communication between neurons and is closely linked to Alzheimer’s. Only during sleep can spinal fluid slosh like detergent through these broader hallways of our brain, washing beta-amyloid away.

Dreams, too, reflect this heightened activity of the brain, but it’s unclear whether dreams themselves are a kind of harmless aftereffect or whether they perform a key function at reinforcing memory.

Lately, I’ve been fascinated by my own dreams, not least because reality has so often been disappointing. One recurring theme has been universities: libraries, offices, classrooms, campuses, over and over again. This isn’t terribly surprising: I spent a shade less than half my life, and most of my adult life, either going to school or working at one. But it’s difficult to make sense of. Do I miss the security/adventure of those times? Am I consolidating those memories to make room for new ones? Is an oracular entity trying to convince me to go back to school? I’m not sure. But understanding that SOMEthing is going on is a kind of balm that’s useful to me in ways I can’t totally articulate.

Max Richter’s Sleep, an 8-hour album designed to be listened to while you sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2018

Composer Max Richter released Sleep in 2015, but it only recently became available on streaming platforms: Spotify, Amazon, Apple Music, Tidal. The album is 8 hours and 24 minutes long and was designed by Richter as a sleep aid/accompaniment. The composer worked with neuroscientist David Eagleman to align the music with the brain & body’s natural sleep rhythms.

A snack-sized version of Sleep is also available: From Sleep, which clocks in at a mere hour long.

Why do you wake up before your alarm?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2013

Your body clock alarm is just as accurate as the one on your phone: your body naturally takes note of what time you want to wake up and wakes you up.

There’s evidence you can will yourself to wake on time, too. Sleep scientists at Germany’s University of Lubeck asked 15 volunteers to sleep in their lab for three nights. One night, the group was told they’d be woken at 6 a.m., while on other nights the group was told they’d be woken at 9 a.m..

But the researchers lied-they woke the volunteers at 6 a.m anyway. And the results were startling. The days when sleepers were told they’d wake up early, their stress hormones increased at 4:30 a.m., as if they were anticipating an early morning. When the sleepers were told they’d wake up at 9 a.m., their stress hormones didn’t increase — and they woke up groggier. “Our bodies, in other words, note the time we hope to begin our day and gradually prepare us for consciousness,” writes Jeff Howe at Psychology Today.

(via digg)

Parasomnias: life-threatening nightmares

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2012

Great personal storytelling/reportage by Doree Shafrir about her night terrors.

I am now completely panicked, and I jump back onto my bed and lean over the half-wall that my bed is up against, overlooking the hallway. There, I see what’s causing all the problems, and I push it downward and off the wall with all my might. It shatters loudly, glass flying everywhere.

Then, finally, I wake up. My two dogs are cowering in the corner, and I put on shoes to sweep up the glass. I am confused and embarrassed, though there is no one besides the dogs there to see that I just pushed a framed poster off a wall and broke it. I clean up the glass and go back to sleep, and it is not until the morning, when I see my shoes scattered everywhere, that I look into the closet and realize that I have also ripped the TV cable completely out of the back wall of my closet.

I hadn’t heard that Tobias Wong’s suicide might have been carried out while Wong was asleep:

The prevailing theory about Tobias Wong’s death was that he hanged himself while experiencing a night terror. I imagine that something in his mind told him that hanging himself was the only way to escape whoever, or whatever, was chasing him, in the same way that I have thought that the only way to save myself was to jump out of a window or smash a pane of glass.

The mystery of Tobias Wong’s death

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2010

Artist and designer Tobias Wong killed himself last month. Or did he? Sleep can be a dangerous thing.

The mysteries of sleep

posted by Jason Kottke   May 06, 2010

D.T. Max on the Secrets of Sleep for National Geographic.

An animal must lie still for a great stretch of time, during which it is easy prey for predators. What can possibly be the payback for such risk? “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function,” the renowned sleep researcher Allan Rechtschaffen once said, “it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made.” […]

At Stanford University I visited William Dement, the retired dean of sleep studies, a co-discoverer of REM sleep, and co-founder of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. I asked him to tell me what he knew, after 50 years of research, about the reason we sleep. “As far as I know,” he answered, “the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”

And this fatal familial insomnia sounds like a horrible disease:

The main symptom of FFI, as the disease is often called, is the inability to sleep. First the ability to nap disappears, then the ability to get a full night’s sleep, until the patient cannot sleep at all. The syndrome usually strikes when the sufferer is in his or her 50s, ordinarily lasts about a year, and, as the name indicates, always ends in death.

Tony Wright, horticulturalist, broke the unofficial world

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2007

Tony Wright, horticulturalist, broke the unofficial world record by going without sleep for more than 11 days. His trick was, when the left side of his brain tired, to switch to the right side. And then back again after the left had recovered and so on.

For her final project in a Media

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2007

For her final project in a Media Lab class, Anita Lillie fastened three accelerometers to her body and tracked her movements while asleep. The data recorded allowed her to determine her sleeping positions and orientations (on her left side, on her back, etc.) and how they changed through the night.

Jamie reviews some online wake-up services. “when

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 30, 2007

Jamie reviews some online wake-up services. “when you select the secureawake feature, snoozester will attempt to call you every 3 minutes for 20 minutes until you answer the call and indicate that you are awake.”

Photos of people sleeping. Each series of

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 08, 2007

Photos of people sleeping. Each series of photos depcits a full night’s sleep. (via cyn-c)

“A six-year Greek study found that those

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2007

A six-year Greek study found that those who took a 30-minute siesta at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of heart-related death.” Among working men, the risk was reduced by 64%. Naps all around!

Five reasons why Americans might be getting

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2006

Five reasons why Americans might be getting fatter that you haven’t thought of. “Sleep-deprived animals eat excessively, and humans subject to sleep deprivation show increased appetite and an increased Body Mass Index, the standard measure of excessive weight.”

Tips for getting to sleep faster and sleeping better.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2006

Tips for getting to sleep faster and sleeping better.

German researchers are studying the mysterious phenomenon

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2005

German researchers are studying the mysterious phenomenon of people waking up shortly before their alarm goes off. I’ve been getting better and better at doing this. A friend of mine (can’t recall who exactly) doesn’t use an alarm clock but gets up on time by setting his/her internal alarm clock. Also, this sounds like something Feynman would have been into.

How to become an early riser

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2005

How to become an early riser. “The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week).”