What's going on in the brains of people who don't need much sleep?

Sleep

Many people claim that they don't need much sleep, insisting that even five hours a night is enough shuteye for them to feel rested. According to new scientific research, "habitual short sleepers" may actually be handling the brain tasks that most of us deal with during the night, like memory consolidation. From Medical Xpress:

Both groups of short sleepers exhibited connectivity patterns more typical of sleep than wakefulness while in the MRI scanner. (University of Utah radiologist Jeff) Anderson says that although people are instructed to stay awake while in the scanner, some short sleepers may have briefly drifted off, even those who denied dysfunction. "People are notoriously poor at knowing whether they've fallen asleep for a minute or two," he says. For the short sleepers who deny dysfunction, one hypothesis is that their wake-up brain systems are perpetually in over-drive. "This leaves open the possibility that, in a boring fMRI scanner they have nothing to do to keep them awake and thus fall asleep," says (Utah neurologist Chirstopher) Jones. This hypothesis has public safety implications, according to Curtis. "Other boring situations, like driving an automobile at night without adequate visual or auditory stimulation, may also put short sleepers at risk of drowsiness or even falling asleep behind the wheel," he says.

Looking specifically at differences in connectivity between brain regions, the researchers found that short sleepers who denied dysfunction showed enhanced connectivity between sensory cortices, which process external sensory information, and the hippocampus, a region associated with memory. "That's tantalizing because it suggests that maybe one of the things the short sleepers are doing in the scanner is performing memory consolidation more efficiently than non-short sleepers," Anderson says.

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Brain's "reward system" also tied to sleep-wake states

According to Stanford University researchers, a primary circuit in the brain's reward involving the chemical "feel-good" chemical dopamine, is also essential for controlling our sleep-wake cycles.

“Insomnia, a multibillion-dollar market for pharmaceutical companies, has traditionally been treated with drugs such as benzodiazepines that nonspecifically shut down the entire brain," says psychiatry and behavior science professor Luis de Lecea "Now we see the possibility of developing therapies that, by narrowly targeting this newly identified circuit, could induce much higher-quality sleep.”

From Stanford:

It makes intuitive sense that the reward system, which motivates goal-directed behaviors such as fleeing from predators or looking for food, and our sleep-wake cycle would coordinate with one another at some point. You can’t seek food in your sleep, unless you’re an adept sleepwalker. Conversely, getting out of bed is a lot easier when you’re excited about the day ahead of you...

The reward system’s circuitry is similar in all vertebrates, from fish, frogs and falcons to fishermen and fashion models. A chemical called dopamine plays a crucial role in firing up this circuitry.

Neuroscientists know that a particular brain structure, the ventral tegmental area, or VTA, is the origin of numerous dopamine-secreting nerve fibers that run in discrete tracts to many different parts of the brain. A plurality of these fibers go to the nucleus accumbens, a forebrain structure particularly implicated in generating feelings of pleasure in anticipation of, or response to, obtaining a desired objective.

“Since many reward-circuit-activating drugs such as amphetamines that work by stimulating dopamine secretion also keep users awake, it’s natural to ask if dopamine plays a key role in the sleep-wake cycle as well as in reward,” Eban-Rothschild said.

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Slotted mattress facilitates cuddling

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The Cuddle Mattress us made from slices of memory foam, so you can cuddle with your partner without having your limbs fall asleep.

[via] Read the rest

See the first footage of a Great White Shark taking a nap

"She appears to be in an almost catatonic state," says the narrator. I wonder what she's dreaming about.

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Smart mattress alerts you when your partner cheats on you

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The Smartress is a mattress with embedded sensors that will send an alert to your phone "whenever someone is using your bed in a questionable way," according the manufacturer, Durmet.

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Hear the world's most prolific sleep-talker on record

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Dion McGregor (1922-1994) was a songwriter who penned a hit for Barbra Streisand but he has cult (and now scientific) fame as a prolific sleep-talker, or rather sleep-storyteller. While asleep, McGregor would narrate his strange, creepy, and sometimes risque dreams in great detail. Have a listen below! In 1964, Decca Records released an album of recordings of McGregor's sleep-talking, The Dream World of Dion Mcgregor - He Talks in His Sleep, with cover art by Edward Gorey. A book of transcripts, also illustrated by Gorey, was also published that year with the same title, The Dream World of Dion McGregor. Numerous CDs have followed and the entire body of work has become a great source of data for sleep researchers at Harvard Medical School. They're published a new paper about McGregor in the journal Imagination Cognition and Personality. From the British Psychological Society:

The researchers think there are two explanations for the differences between McGregor's somniloquies and typical dream content. One is that much sleep talking does not occur during dreams, and in fact people's brain waves during sleep talking are distinct from those usually seen during dreaming, featuring fewer waves in the alpha frequency range, which they explained could be a sign of more frontal brain activity. The researchers further describe this as "an unusual state midway between waking and sleeping" (backing this up, there is a McGregor interview in which he says a sleep researcher recorded his brain activity during sleep talking and found a mix of sleep and waking brain wave patterns).
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The people who reportedly never sleep. Ever.

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Vietnamese gentleman Thái Ngọc claims that ever since he suffered a terrible fever in 1973, he hasn't slept a wink. There's also Ines Fernandez who says she's been awake for decades. Of course, these curious individuals and others with similar stories may actually be suffering from a very strange sleep disorder called sleep state misperception (SSM) in which the individuals think they were up all night but actually slept just fine. At Mysterious Universe, Martin J. Clemens looks at SSM and the very scary rare disease called Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), presented as total insomnia that can last the rest of the person's life, which is usually only 18 months or so after the onset of symptoms. From Mysterious Universe:

FFI is a neurological condition caused by a misfolded protein in the DNA of the afflicted, of which there have been only about 100 cases. That protein, called a prion protein, is known as PrPSc (PrPC in non-FFI subjects). Essentially, the prion form of the protein causes a change in certain amino acids – due to the protein strand folding incorrectly – which, when combined with other genetic markers, then affects the brain’s sleep centers. FFI is genetic, and therefore hereditary, but there is an even rarer form known as Sporadic Fatal Insomnia (sFI) that occurs spontaneously, the cause of which is not understood. You may wish to know that PrPSc is the same protein that’s responsible for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as Mad Cow Disease.

"The Woman Who Stayed Awake for 30 Years…Or Did She? Read the rest

Debullshitifying the "sleep science" industry: first up, sleeplessness and obesity

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Chris from Sense About Science writes, "Had trouble sleeping recently? This week Ask for Evidence is turning its attention to the multitude of claims about sleep -- how you should be doing it, what you should be wearing for it, what you should be doing it on. First up is Ben, who got the NHS to change the advice on its website after asking them for evidence about claims that not getting enough sleep could make you obese. (It turns out it's a little more nuanced than they first suggested)." Read the rest

IOS 9.3 will let you dim display's blue light to help your brain shift towards sleep

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Apple today unveiled a teaser of what's in store in the latest iOS release, 9.3. Among the “numerous innovations” promised: a blue light dimmer to “help you get a good night’s sleep.”

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Why snoozing puppies twitch cutely and other facts about animal sleep

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Walruses sleep in a big pile. Hippos bob to the surface to take a breath and then sink back underwater. Read the rest

A travel pillow that might actually work

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I have a hard time sleeping on a plane. As soon as I nod off, my head drops and I startle myself awake. I've tried those horseshoe pillows but they don't work very well for me. The JetComfy is a travel pillow that looks like it might allow me to sleep comfortably on a plane. It's cushion on a pole that clamps to the arm rest. You rest your head on it and fall into a deep slumber. I hope that's what happens, at least. It also contains a USB battery to charge your devices and a compartment that holds a combination pen/stylus/light. Pre-sale cost is $65 on Kickstarter.

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Dog goes sleepdigging

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It must have found the bone of its dreams!

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Psychopaths are more immune to "contagious" yawns

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When you see someone yawn and then feel the urge to yawn yourself, it's a sign of social traits like empathy. According to new research from Baylor University, people who scored higher on the Psychopathic Personality Inventory test were less likely to "catch" a yawn. From Baylor University:

Based on the psychological test results, the frequency of yawns and the amount of physiological response of muscle, nerve and skin, the study showed that the less empathy a person had, the less likely he or she was to "catch" a yawn.

"The take-home lesson is not that if you yawn and someone else doesn't, the other person is a psychopath," (lead researcher Brian) Rundle cautions. "A lot of people didn't yawn, and we know that we're not very likely to yawn in response to a stranger we don't have empathetic connections with.

"But what we found tells us there is a neurological connection -- some overlap -- between psychopathy and contagious yawning. This is a good starting point to ask more questions."

And if you'd like to learn more about what makes a psychopath, I highly recommend Jon Ronson's excellent book "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry."

photo: Daisuke Tashiro - Flickr Read the rest

Privacy Pop Tent sits atop bed and keeps out peepers

It seems that kids, college students living in dorms, and anyone else who shares a room would appreciate the Privacy Pop Bed Tent. Read the rest

How your feet help you sleep

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The bottoms of your feet contain blood vessels right below the skin surface. When exposed to cool air, this will lower your body temperature, making you sleepy. So stick a foot (or both) out of the covers and sleep better.

But, as one YouTuber points out, "what if the monster eats my foot away? Read the rest

Maybe the rise we see in #ADHD diagnoses is partly caused by kids not getting enough sleep

Min Heo for the New Yorker.
In children, symptoms of sleep deprivation include hyperactivity and impaired interpretation of social cues.

How one person "cheated sleep"

Sleep

Polyphasic sleep is a method of training your body to requiring much less sleep by taking multiple short naps throughout the day instead of one long sleeping time at night. Over at Quartz, science-trained journalist Akshat Rathi reports on his year-long experiment attempting to "cheat sleep." Read the rest

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