From where I Sleep From where I Stand or Sit
“There is no sunrise so beautiful that it is worth waking me up to see it”, declared the fount of all knowledge that is Mindy Kaling in “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”.
I couldn’t agree more and I have seen far too many sunrises for my liking in the past fortnight. Admittedly, the overwhelming majority of these have been visual hallucinations as I have been DEMENTED with exhaustion since I finally landed in Utah 2 weeks ago after a journey of Guinness Book of World Records levels of persecution: #LongStory. Consider me 100% divested of whatever semblance of a sleeping rhythm I had ‘on the go’ before #UtahGate.
I’ve been back in Dublin now for the best part of a week and really need to repay my sleep debt. Jetlag: #theStruggleisReal. The title of this post was inspired after being jolted from a catnap in the boarding queue (Yes- standing- don’t judge me: horses, those most majestic of creatures, do it all the time) by a group of Canadian preteens snapchatting me at JFK airport. They were LOLLING a LOT and it was very much ‘OUT LOUD’ and I was very much unimpressed. The title was also inspired by me failing to disembark a chair lift due to another pressing catnap. I was rudely awoken and yelled at for causing a small delay in proceedings and had to endure people looking and pointing (with their ski polls) and LOLLing a LOT. Again. At least I was lost at the time so no friends were able immortalise the debacle with a snap or video: #blessed. Strong tang of #theIrishAbroad off me that day I tell ya.
As topics go, sleep is a broad one so for now, I’m going to discuss a few nuts and bolts, REM and the like. And I’ll tackle other aspects (napping, circadian rhythm, insomnia, sleep hygiene, jetlag and so on) another day, when I’m hopefully a tad more rested than I am at the moment.
“Nature’s soft nurse”, as Shakespeare christened it, sleep is necessary to allow our brains and bodies to unwind and replenish energy levels. That’s the traditional school of thought. But is there more to it that meets the (closed) eye?
Our sleep patterns have been categorized into 5 recurring stages which are independent of each other: 4 non-REM stages and 1 REM stage.
The ‘waking’ stage, when the body is preparing for sleep, is sometimes considered a 6th stage. Eye movement decreases and the body slows down and muscles relax. Probably happens a lot during those Netflix binges people bang on about.
Stage 1, ‘drowsiness’, equals me every few seconds at the moment! Eyes are closed and the subject is easily rousable. Eau de ‘Sensation of Falling down a Hole’ anyone?
Stage 2 is the ‘light’ stage of sleep. The heart rate slooows and body temperature chilllz. Dem muscles, however, alternate between episodes of tensing and relaxing: #weirdos.
Stages 3 & 4 are the ‘deep sleep’ stages (aka slow-wave or delta sleep), with stage 4 being deeper than 3. We’re thinkin’ along the lines of Marconi Union’s ‘Weightless’. YouTube this ASAP if you’re having any form of insomnia. 8 minutes of a cure on a plate for you. Or you might plump for the extended versh which is 30 minutes if it’s a tricky night. (Sound therapists were used in the creative process if ya wouldn’t mind.) You’re most welcome.
Stage 5 is the venerable REM cycle (Rapid Eye Movement: the darting of eyes under closed lids). We are effectively paralysed during this stage, yet our brain activity is reminiscent of waking life. Bizarre! This stage is where the magic happens: we dream intensely and can make like Freud the next day and interpret til the cows come home and go to bed themselves to drum up further interpreting business.
REM is the stage that has piqued the interest of many, yours truly in the mix. Does it make us shiny, happy people or nightmarish ones? And what is its purpose? #WhyThough?
“When someone is sleep deprived… dreaming is definitely increased and likely more vivid.” So says neurologist Mark Mahowald, the director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorder Center at the University of Minneapolis. REM rebound is the term for this phenomenon. I’m in for a psychedelic night tonight in that case…
Back to the stages of sleep guys, #apologies.
After 70 minutes of non-REM sleep, we experience a 5 minute stage of REM. A cycle through all of the stages lasts 90 minutes and the pattern repeats itself about 5 times per night. As the night advances, the REM stages progressively lengthen. (The non-REM stages shorten in tandem, #obvs.) This leaves us with a 40 minute #dreamscape before we wake to meet another morning.
When Tore Nielsen, a psychologist and director of the Dream and Nightmare Lab in Montreal studied REM deprivation, he had to wake his volunteers up to 40 times per night as they were going directly into REM sleep each time they closed their eyes. That’s REM rebound for ya. Nielsen showed that losing 30 minutes of REM in a single night can lead to a 35% increase in REM the following night.
Clever man that he was, he also discovered that dream intensity increased with REM deprivation, judging by ‘intensity ratings’ by subjects who were getting only c. 25 minutes of REM sleep per night.
To wear my stethoscope/health promoter’s hat for a moment- high time, sez you- nicotine and alcohol curb REM. Be warned! Certain blood pressure lowering medications also repress REM. As do many antidepressants: when the dreams are silenced, the depression can dissipate for some people. Interesting.
We spend up to one-third of our lives dreaming, yet experts cannot agree on its purpose: #mystifying. Theories abound, natch, the most compelling of them being the consolidation of memories. Babies spend 3/4 of their sleepy byes in REM.
Cue the gratuitous Anne Geddes shot…
Although as Mahowald highlighted, the platypus, not the sharpest of tools in the proverbial box, experiences more REM than any other animal researched, and there have been many. The mind boggles.
P.S. Let me know your thoughts or queries on any sleep (or health-related) issue. Sure, sleep on it why don’t you!
P.S. To read more, please visit skipthescript.com