I have been watching a documentary about sleep called Dead Tired.
I am finding it very interesting. I am a person who does not seem to need much sleep, it’s incredibly unusual for me to feel tired. I have been particularly interested in the experiments conducted and the science of the brain which is being discovered.
A perfectly fit and healthy young man participated in an experiment which saw him sleeping only three hours per night. The aim was for him to do this for one week and undergo lots of physical, mental and medical tests along the way to monitor his experience and give a window of insight into the purposes for sleep.
You can imagine that after the first night of limited sleep he felt exhausted. In a driving test three days into the experiment he had more than ten micro-sleeps, including one that lasted for over thirty seconds. He was totally unaware that he had slept during this time and had felt he that was completely alert. The brain needs sleep to synthesise thoughts, memories and experiences. If you don’t get adequate sleep then your brain is able to take a sleep without your permission. This is a micro-sleep. A few seconds where your brain just logs off. You think you’re awake, you think you’re under control, but your brain waves and eye movements indicate that you are asleep.
By day six, in his brain’s desperation to get an adequate level of deep sleep, he had begun dreaming while he was awake. Dreams allow your brain to make sense of the experiences of the day. Your brain catalogues your experiences, matches them up with other similar thoughts and helps you to create memories during your dreams. This man’s lack of dreaming had caused him to hallucinate. These hallucinations were terrifying to him. He thought he was losing his faculties and going insane. The results of medical tests indicated, amongst other serious problems, that he had the early stages of type two diabetes. Just six days earlier these symptoms did not exist. Physical symptoms had begun to manifest from the mental exhaustion.
As you can imagine the experiment was terminated immediately. Less than a week later, with adequate amounts of sleep all of these difficulties and symptoms had gone.
This experiment had caused me a lot of reflection in the past few days. Are we so busy as a society that we are exhausting ourselves into mental and physical health problems? Could we be so silly?
Go to bed early tonight everyone. Let your brain drift off into sleep. Let it dream to its heart’s content. (if a brain can have a heart…)
I know I will be.