A transcript of a fascinating debate between two eminent sleep scientists, Robert Stickgold and Daniel Kripke, on the question of whether we need more sleep. Stickgold spells out the damaging consequences of "getting less than the eight hours of sleep your body is asking for," whilst Kripke, who focuses on the correlations between oversleep and poor health, wonders why eight hours has been established as the "norm" for healthy sleep. Why not seven, or nine? And should the figure be the same for everyone? He also suspects that the sleeping-pill industry has played a significant role in promoting the perception that we need (to buy) more sleep.
An article in the New York Times discusses the many merits of the "Paleo lifestyle," including when it comes to sleep. "Ms. Tam, a confessed television addict, decided to cut out all electronic devices after 8 p.m. If she has to check her iPhone, she wears amber goggles to block the blue-spectrum light that she believes interferes with her circadian rhythms. Next, she turned her bedroom into the equivalent of a Lascaux cave, removing all clocks (her two young sons serve as her morning alarm, she said) and installing blackout window inserts. The move paid dividends. 'I used to envy how my young two boys would fall asleep almost immediately after their heads hit the pillow,' Ms. Tam said. 'At dawn, they’d bound out of bed, eager to tell us about the previous night’s dreams. Now, I sleep like them.'”
An informative article from The Atlantic about sleep debt among America's low-income workers. Contrary to the popular perception that high-achieving professionals operate on fewer hours' slumber than ordinary mortals, Olga Khazan reports that it's "people who have the least money who get the least sleep."
The BBC website reports on remarkable new research on the processing powers of the sleeping brain. A team led by the neuroscientist Sid Kouider of the Ecole Normal Superieure found that the sleeping brain can accurately assign words into simple categories (eg 'animal' or 'object'). Koudier also suggests that we can perform calculations while we fall asleep, and "continue to identify those calculations as right or wrong during a snooze."
"It reeked of sleep," says Samson Young, the narrator of Martin Amis's pre-millennial black comedy London Fields (1989), when he arrives at the "Somnopolis" that is London Heathrow Airport. "It reeked of it, and of insomniac worry and disquiet, and of thwarted escape." These words clearly project something of Young's fragile, paranoiac state of mind onto the world around him, yet we can't deny he's onto something in his panicky intuition that airports are, in some important sense, places of sleep as well as hubs of activity. All frequent flyers will know that air travel plays havoc with our body clocks: it can involve unconscionably early starts; it drags us across time-zones with inhuman speed; and it often obliges us to spend hours in transfer lounges with nothing to do but doze fitfully, with half an eye on the clock. Small wonder, then, that airports often seem populated by the somnolent, the jet-lagged and the insomniac.
Nothing could be further from the bleary neo-Gothic nightmares of London Fields than Donna McSherry's colourfully informative website, The Guide to Sleeping in Airports, which has established itself as the essential archive of online wisdom on the best and worst sleeping experiences available to air-travellers today. It now contains close on 9000 user-generated reviews of sleeping facilities, and sleeping experiences, in airports, trains and bus stations worldwide -- not to mention a mischievous gallery of images of airport sleepers, and a dedicated thread of narratives about sleeping in "strange places," from casinos and laundromats to stairwells and parking lots. Samson Young might have enjoyed reading McSherry's website; it's the perfect handbook for somnopolitans everywhere.
"We don't like to call it suspended animation," says Samuel Tisherman, the surgeon who is co-ordinating Department of Defense-funded research at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh on techniques to freeze trauma victims in the hope of keeping them alive. But reports on his research, such as this one in the Independent and this one in The Economist, have inevitably played up the sci-fi associations of "therapeutic hypothermia." The Independent's article is illustrated with an image from The Empire Strikes Back of a cryogenically frozen Han Solo; the Economist, meanwhile, goes with one of Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo emerging from hibernation in the sleep pods at the beginning of Ridley Scott's Alien. For all Tisherman's reservations, it's perhaps not so surprising that science fact occasionally needs to take a detour through science fiction before it can be made intelligible to a non-specialist audience. But we might also pause a moment to speculate on why this state of prolonged artificial somnolence -- call it hypersleep, suspended animation or cryogenic freezing -- looms so large in some of our most well-known space operas. What cultural fantasies might be encoded in the images of hibernating spacemen and -women that float so eerily through the science-fiction imagination? Anyone interested in these questions could do a lot worse than read the following post from Brian Baker's very fine (SF) 365 blog.