Smile Politely

Bits and Bobs: Sleep

Cats sleep for an average of sixteen hours a day. Jerks.

Another week, another bits & bobs. This week’s topic is one of my favorite pastimes: sleeping!

1. Getting more sleep can make you less sensitive to pain. For the most part, we are familiar with the fact that getting more sleep makes us more alert. However, research shows that adults that sleep even just 1.5 hours more are not only more alert, but are less sensitive to pain the next day. The way they tested this was by having subjects place their fingers on a hot plate and timing how long it took before the subject pulled away. The researchers found that pain reduction due to increased sleep was actually greater than pain reduction when the subjects took codeine prior to the test. I wonder where they found all these “chronically sleep deprived” volunteers.

2. Scientists have discovered a way to view your dreams. Well, sort of. Researchers first used a brain scanner as they showed subjects hundreds of images. This developed a library of brain patterns associated with these images. They then scanned the brain as the subjects slept, and were able to correctly identify the objects the subjects saw in their dreams, solely via the brain patterns. Interestingly, they were only able to do this in the fifteen seconds prior to the subject waking up. Insights from this research could help us understand how dreams are created and what their function might be.

3. Children sleepwalk more often than adults. If you have kids, you’ve probably had the eerie experience of seeing them appear in your bedroom or around the house after you’ve put them to bed, yet they are clearly unresponsive. When you sleep, chemicals in the brain inhibit the motor system so that you do not act out your dreams. However, if these inhibitors are not present, sleepwalking can occur. In children, the full motor pathway is not fully developed, which is why they are more likely to sleepwalk than adults. Sleepwalking in adults tends to run in families and likely has a genetic component wherein this motor pathway remains undeveloped. It is not on its own dangerous to wake a sleepwalker, but they will often be confused and disoriented, so proceed with caution.

4. We do not know why we sleep. Sleeping is universal in animals. From insects to reptiles to fish to birds, all animals have some form of sleep. Even continuously-moving dolphins sleep, although only one side of their brain sleeps at a time. We know we get cranky and less alert when we don’t get enough sleep, and severe sleep deprivation leads to death. So sleeping must serve some important function, right? Strangely, scientists still know very little about the purpose of sleep. We know little about whether what happens in our brains during sleep is necessary, and why sleep is so conserved across animals. An essential function that we spend one-third of our lives doing remains an elusive mystery.

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