an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘sleep deprivation

more thoughts on sleeping

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Jacinta: So, as I said last time, there’s tons of shite – I mean good shite – on sleep disorders and benefits and how to improve your sleep etc, on YouTube and elsewhere on the net. Why bother with social media, folks – rise above yourself and grasp the world. So I’ll start with Matthew Walker – he doubtless imparts his ideas on improving our sleep in his book Why we sleep, leaving the good dope till the end, but I’m not there yet, so I’m looking at his video ‘How to Improve Your Sleep’…

Canto: Which I’ve already watched, and I’m a man, so I’ll take over. First, alcohol as a ‘nightcap’ doesn’t work. It’s a sedative, and a sedation state isn’t the same as everyday sleep. It doesn’t have a restorative effect – it actually has a disruptive affect – you’ll tend to wake up more often in the night, and not just for wee-wee. You often don’t even remember this happening. It also blocks much of your dream or REM sleep, which is important for your mental health. Depriving rats of REM sleep apparently has quite catastrophic effects. Marijuana, that supposedly wonderful medicinal herb, doesn’t fare much better. It also blocks the dream sleep, though by a different pathway. Walker doesn’t provide too much detail in this 8-minute video, but he’s a professor of neurophysiology at a big Californian uni, and science is our god, right? So marijuana can send you to sleep quickly enough, but with little of that all-important REM sleep….

Jacinta: I can explain why REM sleep is so important…

Canto: Please, I’m not finished. Not getting the REM sleep can make you more anxious and more likely to self-medicate with Mary Jane, leading to a cycle of dependency. But there are questions around the drug – there are unverified claims that CBD oil, or cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive component (as opposed to THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol) may have benefits, but effective studies haven’t been conducted.

Jacinta: Because of a history of stupidity around marijuana. I blame Harry Anslinger and his crowd.

Canto: So can you recover sleep that you’ve lost, either over a previous night or two or a previous lifetime? Well, Walker says no, but that strikes me as disastrously pessimistic – he seems to be saying that some even small period of short-sleeping will have long-term or permanent effects, and you’ll just have to live with those effects for the rest of your life. I mean, really?

Jacinta: Yes, and short-sleeping is often related to our work patterns or the schedules set for us by our culture. Our dog sleeps whenever she wants, and so do bonobos. But kids have to be up for school at seven every morning, and it often goes on throughout our working life…

Canto: To say nothing of shift-work, which I experienced for years, and it was a living nightmare, sleep-wise. It’s ok for these smart-aleck professorial types. We dumb fucks have to earn a living with the sweat of our brows.

Jacinta: Professors sweat too. Anyway, I think this particular video doesn’t quite deliver on how we can improve our sleep. Sure we should avoid alcohol and drugs and not rely too much on alarms, but how do we deal with such problems as – well, just never falling asleep before midnight, and waking up in the night, and so on. I suppose that’s called insomnia?

Canto: Well, as many health sites put it, insomnia is a symptom, not a disease. You might need a bit of discipline. Put down your book, or switch off your phone or tablet well before midnight. Dr Seheult of Medcram fame, who’s also a sleep specialist, suggests you should organise your room, your sleeping place, so that it’s dedicated only to sleeping, not anything else, such as a workspace. Try that, for your psychology. But I’ve also found reputable health websites that disagree with Dr Walker’s claims about short sleeping. They claim that a good night’s sleep is an individual thing in terms of hours spent in shut-eye. Maybe you don’t need as much sleep as the average person. It could be that your anxiety about sleep is doing more damage.

Jacinta: There was some mention of pee earlier. Coffee’s a diuretic – so no coffee for maybe two or three hours before bedtime, whenever that is.

Canto: Difficult.

Jacinta: Self-discipline. I’m sure that bladder retention reduces as we age. I think establishing a routine would help. If you make a decision to get out of bed, say, at eight every morning, and keep to it, the front end will sort itself out, so to speak.

Canto: Well, try that and report back. I’m beginning to feel that you’re making a problem out of nothing. I mean, you worry too much.

Jacinta:: Probably. Anyway, the Better Health Channel has some suggestions for dealing with short term insomnia, and here are some that I find relevant. Avoid caffeinated drinks before bedtime. Also avoid strenuous exercises. Try not to nap during the day. Don’t go to bed if you don’t feel sleepy. And don’t spend too much time worreting over the issue.

Canto: So, should you keep on reading Why we sleep? Won’t that keep you worrying?

Jacinta: Well I don’t mind worreting. And there’s a lot to learn from the book, about how sleep actually works. That’s what we’ll get into in a future post.


Why we sleep, by Matthew Walker, 2017

How To Improve Your Sleep | Matthew Walker (video)

Written by stewart henderson

November 8, 2021 at 11:09 pm

a post to send you to sleep, or not

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Häggström, Mikael (2014). “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström


Canto: Anything interesting you’ve learned lately?

Jacinta: Well, there’s so much, it’s hard to keep track of it all, before it slides down the slippery slope into a past of fragmented memories.

Canto: A pasta of memories? That’s food for thought. I know you’ve been reading up on sleep, among all your other heavy reading. Tell me.

Jacinta: Yes, I’ve been reading up on feminism and misogyny as you know, which is mostly depressing, but this sciencey but very accessible book, Why we sleep by Matthew Walker, is not so much depressing as worrisome, for those of us whose sleep patterns are all over the place, like mine. He’s a big-time sleep researcher, and what he says about sleep deprivation is all bad – even for a wee bit of it.

Canto: So, those dreams of doing away with sleep, of zapping your brain for a few seconds to provide the instant reinvigoration that sleep takes eight hours of wasteful oblivion to achieve, allowing us that much more time to ruin the biosphere and all, or just to read more books and shit, those dreams are just a waste of sleep?

Jacinta: No zapping will ever replace the complexity of sleep, with all its REMness and non-REMness, let Mr Walker assure you. Sleep is a restorative and builder, which has complexly evolved with the complex evolution of our brains and bodies. And by ‘our’ I don’t just mean humans, but every complex or not-so complex evolved organism. They all sleep.

Canto: Well, there are many questions here. You’ve mentioned REM sleep, which I think has something to do with dreaming – your eyes, presumably under their lids, are rapidly moving about. Why? It doesn’t sound healthy.

Jacinta: They’re responding to brain signals, and it’s perfectly normal. More specifically, they seem to be responding to the brain’s changing visual representations while dreaming. They used electrodes in the brain to discover this – which sounds Frankensteinish but in this case they were patients with epilepsy preparing to have very invasive treatment to stop their seizures. They looked at activity in the medial temporal lobe, a region deep in the brain which includes the hippocampus and amygdala, and is involved in encoding and consolidating memories, and found fairly clear-cut connections between that activity and patients’ eye movements.

Canto: But how could they ‘see’ the eye movements?

Jacinta: Oh god, I don’t know, for now I’m more interested in sleep deprivation, which raises concerns for everything from diabetes to Alzheimer’s. And, although I haven’t measured anything carefully, my guess is that I average 6 to 7 hours’ sleep a night, and I need to amp that up.

Canto: And you’ve recently been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, so do you think more sleep can help with that? It’s usually pretty strongly correlated with diet isn’t it?

Jacinta: Less time sleeping, more time for eating, Walker writes. I’m certainly trying to lose weight, but only by eating less. I think my diet’s not too bad, less wine though. And I suppose if I slept more, which is easier said than done, I wouldn’t eat so much. I’ve found in the past that just reducing the quantity of food I ingest, without changing its make-up – in other words, being more disciplined – can take the weight off quite quickly. The key is to make it life-long.

Canto: More fibre is good, I think. For the microbiome.

Jacinta: So type 2 diabetes is generally about blood sugar levels and their regulation, or lack thereof. In a healthy person, eating a meal adds glucose to the blood, which triggers the hormone insulin, produced in the pancreas, to somehow bring about cellular absorption of the glucose as an energy source. In the case of diabetes, there’s usually a break-down in the cellular response to the insulin signal, I think, and so you become hyperglycaemic – not that this has ever happened to me, so far.

Canto: So how does this relate to lack of sleep, apart from giving you more time to guzzle sugar?

Jacinta: Walker describes a series of studies, independent from each other, in different continents, which found high rates of type 2 diabetes in people who reported sleeping for less than six hours a night on a regular basis. They controlled for other factors such as obesity, alcohol use, smoking etcetera. But of course correlation isn’t causation so they investigated further. They conducted experiments with a bunch of healthy people – no blood glucose problems or signs of diabetes. Firstly, they mildly tortured them – they permitted them only four hours of sleep per night over six straight nights. Then they tested their ability to absorb glucose, and found a 40% reduction in that ability. This would immediately classify them as pre-diabetic, and these studies, I’m assured, have been replicated numerous times.

Canto: That sounds incredible. And these guinea pigs quickly recovered? Or are they now full-blown diabetics? Doesn’t sound like mild torture to me. And do they know why a week’s sleep deprivation had such a dramatic effect?

Jacinta: Ha, well, Walker doesn’t mention the afterlife of the experimental subjects, but I’m assuming normality came bounding back after they recovered their sleep. As to the mechanism of action, Walker describes two options – sleep loss may have blocked the release of insulin by the pancreas, providing no signal for cell absorption to take place, or it may have interfered with the released insulin’s message to the cells. And though it seems that sleep loss probably had an effect on both, it was clear from biopsies taken from subjects that it was the latter, the cells’ lack of response to insulin, their ‘refusal’ to take up the blood glucose, that was the principal problem.

Canto: Just looking at the Sleep Foundation website, and they seem to get things the other way round, that diabetics are suffering from sleep loss. I must say, that, off the top of my head, I’d find being pre-diabetic easier to manage than my sleep behaviour. I mean, I can imagine changing my diet and exercise habits easily enough, but my sleep habits not so much. How do you turn off your brain?

Jacinta: Well, Mr Walker has some suggestions on that, which we’ll explore next time. And by the way, there seems to be tons of videos and websites providing knowledge and advice on the issue, which always makes me feel superfluous to requirements as a human being…

Canto: Well, try not to lose sleep over it.


Why we sleep, by Matthew Walker, 2017


Written by stewart henderson

November 7, 2021 at 3:56 pm