Sleep and waking

I was dwelling on the nature of sleep and insomnia, which is ironic right now, since, hey, 5:45 am and bing. Actually, early morning insomnia is less of an issue these days since we got Hobkin. Crepuscular critters are more than happy to romp and play at 5am. Insomnia hardly feels like a problem when a person’s got a fuzzy beastie frisking about at one’s feet, begging for attention :).

Or, err, begging for breakfast.

*feeding the fuzz-head*

Anyway, Matthew saw a show on sleep mechanisms the other day on the Discovery channel. I’ve always been fascinated by sleep, even when I was just a wee undergraduate with dreams of electrodes and Freud dancing in my head. So even pop-science blurbs rivet me.

Them scientist types have found that there’s a chemical responsible for sleep. That is, a chemical in the brain which shuts down all your “waking” impulses and sends you off to nappy-time. This, in itself, is fairly old news. But what they didn’t know until recently is that it’s always cycling through your system. It doesn’t get released at certain times, it’s always there. What does get released is another chemical that overrides it, and thereby allows you to wake up. Stimulants like caffeine and amphetamine don’t mitigate the “sleeping” chemical, but rather they stimulate the suppressing, “wake up” one.

Neat huh?

There’s more. Insomnia, that red-eyed demon of the night (or in my case, of the early morning), is when the suppressing chemical gets outta control, and it triggers even when you should be sleeping. However, researchers now think that insomnia is actually a survival trait. Under times of stress and danger, it was advantageous not to fall asleep. Which makes sense–big bad carnivore stalking your tribe. Probably not the best time to get overwhelmed by a fit of the yawns. Hence, those people whose sleep suppressant mechanisms were hyped up had an advantage. Of course, now, triggers for insomnia are more esoteric than a big, hungry claw-fangy. Doesn’t do much good to lie awake at night worrying about taxes.

But still, isn’t that cool? Makes me want to brush up my ole researching skills and dig a little deeper for the actual study write-ups. Hmm. Well, actually, probably not. But there’s a story in there, I think. Definitely something for the ole idea file.

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8 Responses to Sleep and waking

  1. mslilly says:

    I wish I could get insomnia! I think I have an “overriding chemical shortage.”

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Hee! Lilly, I assure you that insomnia is not something to aspire to. When I go without enough sleep for too long, my fangs come out and my husband informs me I become quite scary. It’s no fun for me, and no fun for anyone around me.

      But it’s almost the weekend, hurray! I catch up on a lot of missed sleep napping on the couch on lazy Sunday afternoons. Ahhh, naps. 🙂

  2. katen says:

    That is why I’ve always loved biology. Maybe one day, if writing “success” never comes, I’ll go back to school.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      That is why I’ve always loved biology

      Me too! And genetics. Genetics fascinate me. It’s the other side of the psychology coin–behavior and wiring.

      School rocks, but don’t quit writing. Never quit writing!

  3. dr_pipe says:

    I love biochemistry! Especially Neurochemistry. That is probably evident from my writing. I’m also way into dreams and used to want to go to Stanford and work at the dream research lab with Stephen LaBerge.

    • Eugie Foster says:

      Neurochemistry’s the bomb! Although I’m not so much interested in dreams. All the psychoanlyst Freudian pap sort of jaded me on dream interpretation. But yet, sleep really interests me. Go fig. 🙂

      • dr_pipe says:

        I’m not talking about dream interpretation, so much as dream mechanics. Some of it’s neurochemistry, like the transmitters that paralize you while you’re in REM sleep so you don’t thrash around so much. Research suggests that you use the same neural impulses to move your dream body as your real body, so without that stuff you’d be sleep walking. There’s also dream perception. Like people used to think that a whole dream happened in a few seconds, and was created in response to a stimulus. This is because some french guy had his headboard fall on his neck, and had a long dream which eventually led up to him being guillotined, and concluded that he had created the whole scenario in the moment that the board hit him. But in the Stanford dream lab, they’ve used lucid dreaming to come to some other conclusions. You’ve probably heard of the flashing lights they use to get people to dream lucidly. Once that’s taken care of, and the dreamer is lucid, they can carry out experiments that were designed and agreed upon before the dreamer went to sleep. For instance, they might say, once your dreaming lucidly, look all the way to the left, count 10 seconds, and then look all the way to the right, to signal us. The dreamer’s eyes move to the left, about 10 secs go by, and they move to the right. Thus we suspect that dream time is usually the same as waking time, subjectively.

        Etc etc.

        • Eugie Foster says:

          Oh that dream research. Hell yeah, that stuff is way fascinating. Cases of when the paralysis chemicals (and the general sleep functions) don’t kick in right are just utterly wow-worthy. Like sleep eating, where a woman sleep walked to her kitchen, and then, still sleeping, gorged herself. Rather hard on a diet plan, huh? And the guy who killed his in-laws while in his sleep, without waking up. And narcolepsy–where a person just falls asleep, bang, any time, any place.


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