Researchers have known for some time that sleep is critical for weight maintenance and hormone balance. And too little sleep is linked to everything from diabetes to heart disease to depression. Recently, the research on sleep has been overwhelming, with mounting evidence that it plays a role in nearly every aspect of health. Beyond chronic illnesses, a child’s behavioral problems at school could be rooted in mild sleep apnea. And studies have shown children with ADHD are more likely to get insufficient sleep. A recent study published in the journal SLEEP found a link between older men with poor sleep quality and cognitive decline. Another study out this week shows sleep is essential in early childhood for development, learning, and the formation and retention of memories. Dr. Allan Rechtschaffen, a pioneer of sleep research at the University of Chicago, once said, “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.”
I wrote a long article for SiliconAngle on research into overtime and the 40 hour work week. It turns out that in most cases overtime and lack of sleep do more harm than good:
Facebook COO Sharyl Sandberg has kicked up a mini-controversy by admitting to Makers.com that she leaves the office at 5:30PM every day, and has done so for years. In the Valley, where work is a religion, leaving early is heresy.
Earlier this week “Jon” published The 501 Developer Manifesto, a call for developers to spend less time working.These calls for less time at the office are counter balanced by a recent talk by Google executive Marissa Mayer at an 92|Y event. Mayer dismissed the phenomena of “burn out” as resentment and boasted of working 130 hours a week at times.
Research suggests that Sandberg is probably the more productive executive, and those 501ers may be on to something. In a lengthy essay titled “Bring back the 40-hour work week,” Alternet editor Sara Robinson looks at the history of long working hours and reminds us why the 40 hour limit was imposed in the first place: working more than 40 hours a week has been shown to be counterproductive. It’s a relevant conversation for IT workers, who according to ComputerWorld average 71 hours of work per week.
Roger Ekirch, a historian at Virginia Tech, believes that he’s found evidence that until sometime between the 17th and 19th century Europeans used to sleep in two separate blocks, known as first and second sleep, rather than one eight hour block. According to historical literature he’s uncovered, people would wake up for an hour or two between blocks.
From the BBC:
During this waking period people were quite active. They often got up, went to the toilet or smoked tobacco and some even visited neighbours. Most people stayed in bed, read, wrote and often prayed. Countless prayer manuals from the late 15th Century offered special prayers for the hours in between sleeps.
And these hours weren’t entirely solitary – people often chatted to bed-fellows or had sex.
A doctor’s manual from 16th Century France even advised couples that the best time to conceive was not at the end of a long day’s labour but “after the first sleep”, when “they have more enjoyment” and “do it better”.
Almost everyone needs at least eight, and no you can’t train yourself to get by on less:
In what was the longest sleep-restriction study of its kind, Dinges and his lead author, Hans Van Dongen, assigned dozens of subjects to three different groups for their 2003 study: some slept four hours, others six hours and others, for the lucky control group, eight hours — for two weeks in the lab. […]
Not surprisingly, those who had eight hours of sleep hardly had any attention lapses and no cognitive declines over the 14 days of the study. What was interesting was that those in the four- and six-hour groups had P.V.T. results that declined steadily with almost each passing day. Though the four-hour subjects performed far worse, the six-hour group also consistently fell off-task. By the sixth day, 25 percent of the six-hour group was falling asleep at the computer. And at the end of the study, they were lapsing fives times as much as they did the first day.
There are a few people who get by on four or less hours per night, but they’re rare. There are a lot more people who think they need six or less, but actually need a full eight. This Wall Street Journal Article covers the “sleepless elite” and how rare they. Current research indicates that there’s no way to modify your sleep requirements – they’re genetic.
Replaying memories while people are awake leaves their memories subject to tinkering. But reactivating memories during sleep protects them from interference, researchers in Germany and Switzerland report online January 23 in Nature Neuroscience.
The finding shows that the brain handles memories differently during sleep than while awake, says Sara Mednick, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego who was not involved in the research. Armed with this new knowledge, she says, therapists may be able to destabilize traumatic memories and overwrite the bad memories with good ones, then solidify the new memory with a nap.
Although any kind of problem can make a breakthrough in a dream, the two categories that really crop up a lot are things where the solution benefits from being represented visually, because the dreams are so vivid in their visual-spatial imagery, and when you’re stuck because the conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.
You may have heard the example of August Kekulé and the benzene ring, which represents both these themes. He was thinking that in all nonchemical molecules, the atoms were lined up in some kind of straight line with 90-degree side chains coming off it. Once he knew the atoms in benzene, he was trying to come up with arrangements of them that were straight lines with side chains and it just wasn’t working. Then he dreamt of the atoms forming as a snake, eventually reaching around with the snake’s tail in its mouth. It seems exactly related to the fact that the prefrontal lobes that control censorship are, on average, much less active during dreams.
If you want to problem-solve in a dream, you should first of all think of the problem before bed, and if it lends itself to an image, hold it in your mind and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep. For extra credit assemble something on your bedside table that makes an image of the problem. If it’s a personal problem, it might be the person you have the conflict with. If you’re an artist, it might be a blank canvas. If you’re a scientist, the device you’re working on that’s half assembled or a mathematical proof you’ve been writing through versions of.
Equally important, don’t jump out of bed when you wake up—almost half of dream content is lost if you get distracted. Lie there, don’t do anything else. If you don’t recall a dream immediately, see if you feel a particular emotion—the whole dream would come flooding back. [In a weeklong study I did with students that followed this protocol] 50 percent dreamed of the problem and a fourth solved them—so that’s a pretty good guideline, that half of people would have some effect from doing this for a week.
Psychologist Jorge Conesa-Sevilla has put forward an ecopsychological hypothesis about SP/HH. Ecopsychology is the study of the mind in association with the natural environment. Conesa-Sevilla suggests the uncanny state of mind may be triggered by geological anomalies, and points out that cultures living in the “Ring of Fire,” the geomagnetically unstable areas of Central America, the Pacific Coast of the US, Southern Alaska, Hawaii, and Indonesia, have a much more developed vocabulary for sleep paralysis and its accompanying hallucinations than anywhere else in the world.  Many of the indigenous peoples of these territories are dreaming cultures that pay attention to, and actively invite, the “dreaming arts” such as lucid dreaming, reverie and trance states.  Given that geomagnetic effects have been shown to alter consciousness, Conesa-Sevilla’s hypothesis is not so unlikely. Similarly, archaeologist Paul Devereux has noted that SP is one state of consciousness among many that “transgress” the normal boundaries of mental imagery (without straying into psychosis), and may be responsible for some mental events interpreted as hauntings.  In both of these theories, then, the Stranger can be seen as emerging from local environmental conditions, as well as from the dreamer’s own mind and cultural upbringing.
I’ve experienced sleep paralysis twice in my life. I was familiar with the phenomena of sleep paralysis and both of my experiences had heavy “occult” undertones since that was what I was into at the time. They were still scary, but not in the way that they would have been if I hadn’t been aware of sleep paralysis and didn’t have a positive framework for encounters with strange entities in mind when it happened.
I haven’t had an experience like this in many years.
These data suggest that sleep continuity disturbance, but not simple sleep restriction, impairs endogenous pain-inhibitory function and increases spontaneous pain, supporting a possible pathophysiologic role of sleep disturbance in chronic pain.
Sleep has long been known to improve performance on memory tests. Now, a new study suggests that an afternoon power nap may boost your ability to process and store information tenfold — but only if you dream while you’re asleep.
“When you dream, your brain is trying to look at connections that you might not think of or notice when [you’re] awake,” says the lead author of the study, Robert Stickgold, the director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, Massachusetts. “In the dream…the brain tries to figure out what’s important and what it should keep or dump because it’s of no value.” […]
“If you’re not good at something, and you dream about it, you seem to get better at it — especially if the information can be used in different situations,” says Michael Breus, the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health, in Glendale, Arizona, who was not involved in the study.
As strange as the name sounds, exploding head syndrome is actually a rare and relatively undocumented sleep phenomenon. While sleeping or dozing, a person with the condition hears a terrifically loud sound in their head, such as a bomb exploding, a clash of cymbals or a gun going off.
“It’s usually described as a loud bang or pop that occurs in the first third of the night,” says Dr. Neil Kline, sleep physician and representative of the American Sleep Association in Wilmington, Del. “It’s a sensory phenomenon. The individual senses that some type of explosion has occurred nearby, but ultimately realizes it’s in their head. It’s not associated with pain or with any disorder that we know of and there are no physiological medical consequences that are associated with it.”