What Happens While You Sleep and How It Affects Your Every Waking Moment…


“We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive.”

The Ancient Greeks believed that one fell asleep when the brain filled with blood and awakened once it drained back out. Nineteenth-century philosophers contended that sleep happened when the brain was emptied of ambitions and stimulating thoughts. “If sleep doesn’t serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made,” biologist Allan Rechtschaffen once remarked. Even today, sleep remains one of the most poorly understood human biological functions, despite some recent strides in understanding the “social jetlag” of our internal clocks and the relationship between dreaming and depression. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, journalist David K. Randall — who stumbled upon the idea after crashing violently into a wall while sleepwalking — explores “the largest overlooked part of your life and how it affects you even if you don’t have a sleep problem.” From gender differences to how come some people snore and others don’t to why we dream, he dives deep into this mysterious third of human existence to illuminate what happens when night falls and how it impacts every aspect of our days.

Most of us will spend a full third of our lives asleep, and yet we don’t have the faintest idea of what it does for our bodies and our brains. Research labs offer surprisingly few answers. Sleep is one of the dirty little secrets of science. My neurologist wasn’t kidding when he said there was a lot that we don’t know about sleep, starting with the most obvious question of all — why we, and every other animal, need to sleep in the first place.

But before we get too anthropocentrically arrogant in our assumptions, it turns out the quantitative requirement of sleep isn’t correlated with how high up the evolutionary chain an organism is:

Lions and gerbils sleep about thirteen hours a day. Tigers and squirrels nod off for about fifteen hours. At the other end of the spectrum, elephants typically sleep three and a half hours at a time, which seems lavish compared to the hour and a half of shut-eye that the average giraffe gets each night. […]

Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body’s sleep debt is wiped clean.

What, then, happens as we doze off, exactly? Like all science, our understanding of sleep seems to be a constant “revision in progress”:

Complete article here

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“To sleep, perchance to dream: — ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” – WS

Sleep is the great dark continent of existence as seen by the conscious mind. It is only dimly perceived and poorly explained by the culture, and then chiefly in myth. It is not a simple place as imagined by the reductionist lab rat mind, not complex in the same ways that conscious life expresses its complexity, but asymptotically complex place of mystery where the indelible laws of the waking world have been repealed in toto. To those who would be tourist in this strange land I recommend directed dreaming. Directed dreaming is a simple straightforward skill that most seem to be able to master to some degree. I have used it personally, and in my practice of pediatrics with patients and even with my own children.

From a scientific point of view, I am disappointed in most sleep science. Though much interesting work is done, the field is dominated by the reductionist persuasion that works well in most physical and chemical science, but fails miserably in the unconscious realms. One can experience a lot of what goes on in sleep directly. Many keep dream diaries. I kept a dream diary when I was experimenting with directed dreaming. It was a fascinating but ultimately personally unessential endeavor. In the wake of my experiments with my dream states my conscious mind evidences a more respectful relationship to that mysterious realm. Now my conscious mind tends to leave the unconscious alone, except perhaps to aid sleep when possible by providing quiet and darkness as possible and an empty stomach when it is being sensible (“No you do not need a bowl of ice cream before bed! Bad conscious mind. No Netflix.”)

As a pediatrician I saw endless number of allegedly hyperactive kids, many on potent prescription drugs, who were actually suffering from sleep deprivation. One of the drags on poor kids is that their homes are routinely noisy. Imagine sitting at a desk in an overheated classroom panicked lest you give into sleep and fall out of your chair (this is not uncommon) on to the floor. Make you feel like being hyperactive as a defense?

With sleep, as in much else, we have many experts describing the trees to us that we become terminally confused about the forest we live in. Try listening to the noise experts about sleep. Noise kills. Add to that our society’s ever decreasing historical attention span and you get an entire population drenched in noise and sleep disturbing pharmaceuticals and you get people stressed to the edge of death with no conscious idea of this simple relationship between their self reported diseases and instabilities and their lack of healthy sleep. Here have some Ambien.

And, like virtually all these sorts of stressors, noise is addictive. In one of Joe Pesci’s funniest movies, My Cousin Vinny (1992), he plays a city person trying to sleep in the relative quiet of the country. His character gets his first good night’s sleep only when tossed into jail with a rowdy cohort.

There are all sorts of fun games to play involving sleep, dream diaries, directed dreaming, the virtual alarm clock where you learn to tell your sleeping brain to wake you up at a certain time instead of the noisy alarm clock, and more.

Sleep: the premier tourist attraction and FREE! Who knew?