The Sleep(y) Scientist
We can all relate to the feeling of sleep deprivation. How can we possibly get the recommended 8 hours of sleep, with our millions of deadlines, impossible work commitments and household chores? Wouldn’t we save so much time if we didn’t spend a third of our lives asleep?
My life is centered around sleep. During the day, I research how sleeping tablets affect emotion and memory. In the evening, I work as a Sleep technician, watching other people sleep. It is ironic that I only have time for an average of 5-6 hours of sleep per night which affects many aspects of my life.
The Grumpy Co-worker
My lack of sleep has contributed to my new nickname at work; grumpy. It is true! I’m irritable, emotional and anxious. These feelings are normal for people with little sleep. It is actually altering my brain activity.
The amygdala is the region of the brain that is responsible for processing emotion. Scientists have found that it is overactive in sleep deprived people. That is why I am so grumpy with my colleagues; my amygdala is overreacting BEFORE they forget to clean up after themselves.
The “housekeeping” function of sleep
Sleep also plays an important in cleaning out all of the toxins that we accumulate during wake. Just like our house when we are busy; sometimes it gets messy and we need to give it a quick tidy up. Our brain needs similar attention. Some toxins that we accumulate during the day are linked with the development of Alzheimer’s disease. So it is really important that sleep can help to flush them out.
Sleep Improves Memory
Sleep deprivation robs us from the memory enhancement effects of sleep. Our brain is made up of communication cells called neurons. When we sleep, the neurons dance in perfect synchrony to the rhythm of the sleeping brain, replaying the important things that occurred during the day. This helps us to remember the next day.
In a study, participants were taught to tap their fingers in a specific sequence. They were told to repeat this sequence as fast as they could, making as little errors as possible. If the participants had a nap, and they were asked to repeat this finger tapping task, they could repeat it much faster and with less errors than participants who did not sleep in between.
Our lecturers and teachers have known all along. They tell us to sleep before an exam, instead of cramming all night! Why do we always end up cramming?
We need to sleep more!
If sleep is so important for normal brain function, why does it take such a low priority in our increasingly busy lives? Sleep improves attention and memory. It affects our motivation and our mood. If we allowed ourselves to spend a third of our lives asleep, we would be more productive and happier people.
On that note, I think I’d better get some!
Good Night, Everyone!
The Sleep(y) Scientist