Try and stay awake through what I thought was some of the more interesting things that neuro-scientist Matthew Walker has to say on the subject.
Dolphins can sleep with half of their brain wide awake. This ensures their survival and why you may not feel rested in a new environment designed for sleep also known as a hotel room. There are 4 stages of sleep in the category of non rapid eye movement. Stages 3 and 4 are where we are very deep asleep. This is when the body repairs itself. One half of your brain resists going into that phase when you are in a foreign environment.
Quality of sleep is just as important as quantity. But if you are not getting 7 hours of quality sleep you have a better chance of developing Alzheimer’s. Well we’re all in a lot of trouble if that is true.
Sleep aids cause your brain to not function correctly. The counter in your brain that registers how many hours you are getting in each phase of sleep keeps track and sleep drugs do not allow you to cycle through all the phases correctly. You can get a Rem Rebound effect. REM is rapid eye movement sleep and that is when you are dreaming. You can end up getting very intense dreams when you are in a deficit. When you drink a lot of alcohol it is not excreted for about 6 hours by your liver and kidneys. So you are deprived of proper brain activity while you were sleeping it off. But then your brain tries to make up for it and gives you some very intense dreams.
Marijuana puts people to sleep quicker. Alcohol is considered a sedative and sedation is not real healthy sleep. Marijuana targets different receptors than alcohol. The experts are not sure if that is considered natural sleep. Let’s say that it is. The problem is it affects the brain stem where REM sleep occurs and it seems to affect it in not a good way. It may block your REM sleep. Alcoholics have delirium trends. DT’s do not stand for detoxing. Their dream state has been blocked for so long that they are delirious. They’re seeing their dreams while being conscious. Those pink elephants are real to them. Since your brain can’t get the dream sleep while you are asleep, the brain decides to take it while you’re awake. It’s a collision of two states of consciousness known as delirium. If the brain will cause this to get what it is missing, then you can assume that full good sleep is vital.
It took 3.6 million years of evolution to acquire a brain that required 8 hours of sleep. You are not going to change that just because you think Red Bull may be the answer. The last 100 years we seem to think that we don’t need a lot of sleep. Men that sleep 5 to 6 hours a night have the testosterone levels of a man 10 years their senior. A few less hours of sleep will age you a decade in just those terms alone.
Marathon bikers that manage their lack of sleep to go across the country as quick as possible report the same kind of delirium as alcoholics do.
Sleep studies performed while you are sleeping in a Pet Scan that measures brain activity reveal that there is a 30% marked increase, more active than when you’re awake in certain areas of your brain during REM sleep. Not all parts of the brain are ramping up in REM sleep. The visual, motor, emotional and memory centers ramp up. The prefrontal cortex does the opposite, it winds down. This is considered the CEO of the brain. Rational, logical thinking occurs here. Well for most people. That part of your brain is shut off during REM and that is probably why you don’t question your dreams when they are occurring. So we see things in our dreams because our vision center in our occipital cortex is activating, we shake and move because our motor strip is activating, we’re emotional because our limbic system is working faster, but none of it makes any sense because our prefrontal cortex is shutting down.
We forget our dreams so easily because it is hard to access all of the storage in our brain. But it is in there, and something can trigger your recollection of a dream. When our conscious mind wakes up and takes over, the I.P. address for that dream is lost, but it is not destroyed. It is available, just not accessible. We may not remember it, but that doesn’t mean it might not be affecting our behavior.
The chemistry of the brain is radically different when you are in the dream state. Nor-adrenaline plummets to a very low level. When you wake up it spikes. Acetylcholine is inversely flowing and it has to do with memory. The way these chemicals are interacting is it is sending out information rather than saving it. It’s more involved with outputting information than committing it to memory in the dream state.
What is the function of the dream state? Why did mother nature create it? We get about two hours every night of virtual reality. One answer is no answer. It’s like a light bulb. It produces light, but a byproduct is heat. Maybe dreaming is the heat production of REM sleep? On the other hand it is metabolically demanding to have dreams. When nature burns calories it is usually for a reason.
All stages of sleep are important. When you are sleeping you are not doing anything that nature requires of us. Is it the biggest mistake that the evolution process ever made? Probably not. Nature would not bother putting you into a state that is not necessary. Each stage of sleep has unique and separate functions. You can’t short change one of them. Evolution has taken a long time to get the blue print created accurately and you can drink all the energy drinks you can stomach, but you are hurting your brain and that hurts all of your health. There is a good chance that you or the manufacturers are not smarter than nature.
Your cardiovascular system goes through dramatic changes during sleep. Your mind paralyzes most of your body so that you can dream safely. If you were to start acting out your dreams in the deep dark night, you could get hurt. Stay tuned for part 2 when this starts to get even more interesting.