Friday, April 26, 2013

Sleeping 1/3 of our lives

I enjoy listening to Great Courses.  Much like sharing Kindles on one account, sharing a Great Courses account to download a course onto two iPods lets both of us listen to a course in our separate cars while driving around.  We often listen to an audiobook on a trip since a good story can make a short drive or a whole day of driving zip right on by.  It may take a certain sort of mind to drive safely while listening to a voice.  I admit that there are times when I have to replay a segment because I had to really attend to the car situation.

When I saw that the Great Courses had "Secrets of Sleep Science", I knew I wanted to listen to it.  I am up to lecture 16 of 24.  I don't really follow all the biochemical details as this neurochemical is changed into that one.  Some of the detail of what happens in my brain as I sleep is way beyond my interest level.  I have learned that I don't just become a snoring stone while sleeping.  All sorts of complex operations take place in my brain while I sleep.  I am not just an inert pillow but a switchboard of operations storing energy, consolidating memories and integrating them into a more coherent set of understandable ideas, facts and impressions.

It seems that scientists are still agitated over the exact functions of sleep.  All animals seem to have some form of sleep and all tested animals begin to mis-fire if they are deprived of sleep.  It is only in the last couple of decades that it has been proved to their satisfaction that memory and learning tasks are performed better after sleep.  They have even proved that actual human insight occurs from sleep, as in realizing that a given mathematical principle existed that could be used to understand and complete an operation on numbers.

It seems that we humans tend to sleep in 90 minute cycles that contain both non-REM and REM sleep.  REM or rapid-eye movement sleep is the portion of our sleep in which we tend to have clear-cut dreams and in which we are normally paralyzed which keeps us from acting out the motions we would use in such a dream if we were awake.  Most adult sleepers have about 5 of these cycles a night.  Many older people have heard that sleep matters and find that they aren't getting solid sleep for the amount of time usually recommended.  But Prof. Craig Heller of Stanford University advises them that data shows that the least probability of mortality is associated with 6.5-7.5 hours of sleep. He does advise following smart practices to maximize one's sleep duration and quality.

Dreams have fascinated all civilizations in all ages.  The most agreed-on scientific evidence so far seems to support the idea that dreams result because of brain clean-up and consolidation, memory dumps and energy supply restoration during sleep and don't have any special meaning except for what we decide they mean. Nevertheless, Prof. Heller ends each lecture with the closing "Sweet dreams".

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