I am, in a bad way, obsessed with how many hours of sleep I get. I guess I am obsessed with it, because like I said in my first post, when I don’t sleep enough, I turn into a gremlin. I just feel an overwhelming exhaustion, I don’t think as clearly or quickly, and I become very, very quiet, almost totally unable to speak.
Sleep is a new-ish hot topic in the field of neurology. In fact, when I was looking into jobs for this summer, a few of the ones I considered involved working at a sleep lab. As soon as I found out that as part of my position I would be working from 8-11pm, I quickly reconsidered. There were a couple of reasons behind my decision, one being that this is the last stint of somewhat free evenings I will have for the next ten years, another being that 11pm stands perilously close to being past my bedtime.
It’s amazing if you think about it, sleep is a human behavior that has been a part of the natural life cycle for all animals since the dawn of time, and it has yet to be scientifically "figured out." Granted, we know a great deal. We know about the sleep cycles, ekg patterns, and we are learning more about circadian rhythms, we know what hormones peak upon falling asleep or peak just before awakening. WHY we need to sleep, however, is still a mystery. I find it fascinating that we know so little about something so familiar.
In a vast field, here is an interesting tidbit–
There was a clip on 60 minutes last week: The Science of Sleep, Part I. What I found particularly interesting was their brief presentation of endocrine aspect. As a way of looking at WHY we need sleep, researchers are studying what happens when we don’t get enough sleep. In this clip, they introduced a study that involved a healthy 19 year old boy. This boy would be in bed, from what I could gather, for about 8 hours a night, but repeatedly have his sleep disrupted so that he was only getting 4 hours of solid sleep per night. After only a few days (I think it was 4) he showed signs of being in a pre-diabetic state. His body was not properly responding to sugar. A current thought is that a certain type of diabetes is partially a disease of old age. Now, however, people are postulating that perhaps it could be a disease of decreased REM. Young, healthy individuals get 100 or so minutes of REM per night. Older individuals, however, get somewhere in the ballpark of 20 minutes of REM sleep per night.