The Science (and Mystery) of Sleep

dream-web-270x204

Given the widespread use of technology and stresses caused by economic instability, it’s no surprise that more than one out of three adults in America today get less than seven hours of sleep a night and 38% reported unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least once in the past month according to a Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Report. What may come as more of a surprise are results of studies which indicate just how important getting a healthy amount of sleep really is for our physical and mental well-being. According to a recent article by Dr. Joseph Mercola, risks associated with sleep deprivation include:

  1. Reaction Time Slows: When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re not going to react as quickly as you normally would, making driving or other potentially dangerous activities, like using power tools, risky. One study even found that sleepiness behind the wheel was nearly as dangerous as drinking and driving.2
  2. Your Cognition Suffers: Your ability to think clearly is also dampened by lack of sleep. If you’re sleep-deprived, you will have trouble retaining memories, processing information, and making decisions. This is why it’s so important to get a good night’s sleep prior to important events at work or home.
  3. Emotions Are Heightened: As your reaction time and cognition slows, your emotions will be kicked into high gear. This means that arguments with co-workers or your spouse are likely and you’re probably going to be at fault for blowing things out of proportion.

Meanwhile, previous research has found that sleep deprivation has the same effect on your immune system as physical stress or illness,3 which may help explain why lack of sleep is tied to an increased risk of numerous chronic diseases.

In addition, getting less than seven hours of sleep or having regular interrupted and/or impaired sleep can affect hormone levels and expression of genes which can:

  • Increase your risk of heart disease and cancer

  • Harm your brain by halting new neuron production. Sleep deprivation can increase levels of corticosterone (a stress hormone), resulting in fewer new brain cells being created in your hippocampus

  • Contribute to a pre-diabetic, insulin-resistant state, making you feel hungry even if you’ve already eaten, which can lead to weight gain

  • Contribute to premature aging by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during certain types of exercise, such as high-intensity interval training)

  • Increase your risk of dying from any cause

Read the full article here: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/03/27/sleep-deprivation-risks.aspx

A recent post at Thought Infection also highlights the importance of sleep, speculating on how it could serve as a biological compression algorithm. From the article’s conclusion:

One might think about it like a similar process that happens when a computer is put to sleep. The energetically costly RAM is compressed and dumped to the much more efficient, but also much slower hard disk. Perhaps the brain might operate in a similar way, finding the most energetically efficient means to store new memories in synaptic circuits by connecting new memories to old ones.

Taking this a little further, I think this idea has given me a little bit of insight into how biological brains function. Unlike a computer which fills up the hard drive with new information stored with (more or less) perfect fidelity, organic brains have to have some pre-existing map to connect a novel sensation both in order to make sense of it and to store the memory of it.

An apple is only an apple after you know what an apple is.

The brain does not have an unlimited tape of memory onto which to record, or an infinite supply of energy to build synapses. The brain must make due with what resources it has, and that is the genius of it. Because brains must find ways that new ideas and memories connect to old ones, we are energetically required to find new ways of thinking about the world every night. Sleep reinvents us one night at a time.

Read the full article here: http://thoughtinfection.com/2014/04/12/is-sleep-a-biological-compression-algorithm/

While this theory may possibly explain an important neurological function of sleep, the subjective experience of the dream state remains as shrouded in mystery as ever.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that during sleep it sometimes is not just one’s direct experiences being processed but also future experiences and experiences of loved ones, ancestors, and those of people going through traumatic events as well. In other words, in rare cases it may also be an an interconnected and non-local state of consciousness.

The following two examples were recently featured in an article reposted at Red Ice Creations:

Scene 1. Mark Twain was famous for mocking every orthodoxy and convention, including, it turns out, the conventions of space and time. As he relates the events in his diaries, Twain and his brother Henry were working on the riverboat Pennsylvania in June 1858. While they were in port in St. Louis, the writer had a dream:


In the morning, when I awoke I had been dreaming, and the dream was so vivid, so like reality, that it deceived me, and I thought it was real. In the dream I had seen Henry a corpse. He lay in a metallic burial case. He was dressed in a suit of my clothing, and on his breast lay a great bouquet of flowers, mainly white roses, with a red rose in the centre.

Twain awoke, got dressed, and prepared to go view the casket. He was walking to the house where he thought the casket lay before he realized “that there was nothing real about this—it was only a dream.”

Alas, it was not. A few weeks later, Henry was badly burned in a boiler explosion and then accidentally killed when some young doctors gave him an overdose of opium for the pain. Normally the dead were buried in a simple pine coffin, but some women had raised $60 to put Henry in a metal one. Twain explains what happened next:

When I came back and entered the dead-room Henry lay in that open case, and he was dressed in a suit of my clothing. He had borrowed it without my knowledge during our last sojourn in St. Louis; and I recognized instantly that my dream of several weeks before was here exactly reproduced, so far as these details went—and I think I missed one detail; but that one was immediately supplied, for just then an elderly lady entered the place with a large bouquet consisting mainly of white roses, and in the center of it was a red rose, and she laid it on his breast.

Who would not be permanently marked, at once inspired and haunted, by such a series of events? Who of us, if this were our dream and our brother, could honestly dismiss it as a series of coincidences? Twain could not. He was obsessed with such moments in his life, of which there were many. In 1878 he described some of them in an essay and even theorized how they worked. But he could not bring himself to publish it, as he feared “the public would treat the thing as a joke whereas I was in earnest.” He offered the essay to the North American Review on the condition that it be published anonymously. The magazine refused to do so. Finally, Twain published the article in Harper’s, in two installments: “Mental Telegraphy: A Manuscript With a History” (1891) and “Mental Telegraphy Again” (1895).

Mental telegraphy. The technological metaphor points to Twain’s conviction that such events were connected to the acts of reading and writing. Indeed, he suspected that whatever processes this mental telegraphy involved had some relationship to the sources of his literary powers. The “manuscript with a history” of the first essay’s title refers to a detailed plotline for a story about some Nevada silver mines that one day came blazing into his mind. Twain came to believe that he had received this idea from a friend 3,000 miles away through mental telegraphy.

Scene 2. The American forensic pathologist Janis Amatuzio’s book Beyond Knowing is filled with extraordinary stories of impossible things that routinely happen around death. Here is one such tale.

It began one night when Amatuzio encountered a very troubled hospital chaplain, who asked her if she knew how they had found the body of a young man recently killed in a car accident. Amatuzio replied that her records showed that the Coon Rapids Police Department had recovered the body in a frozen creek bed at 4:45 a.m.

“No,” the man replied. “Do you know how they really found him?” The chaplain then explained how he had spoken with the dead man’s wife, who related a vivid dream she’d had that night of her husband standing next to her bed, apologizing and explaining that he had been in a car accident, and that his car was in a ditch where it could not be seen from the road. She awoke immediately, at 4:20, and called the police to tell them that her husband had been in a car accident not far from their home, and that his car was in a ravine that could not be seen from the road. They recovered the body 20 minutes later.

Read the full article here: http://chronicle.com/article/Embrace-the-Unexplained/145557

 

This entry was posted in consciousness, culture, Psychology, Science, society, Spirituality, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.