Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina Brain Rule # 7a– Sleep Well, Think Well

Dr. John Medina gives extreme examples of how important sleep is to our mental function.

Example #1 – Seventeen year old Randy Gardner deprived himself of sleep for eleven days straight for a science project.  Scientist William Dement tracked Randy’s brain function throughout the experiment. Early on his symptoms included: irritability, forgetfulness and nausea. After five days: Alzheimer’s symptoms, severe disorientation, and paranoia. Finally, during the last few days: loss of motor function, trembling fingers and slurred speech.   P. 151

Example # 2 – Fatal Familial Insomnia – This very rare condition has affected about twenty families worldwide.  Severe mental health issues begin the process along with profuse sweating and uncontrollable muscular jerks and tics. As the condition progresses, there is depression, anxiety, and psychosis.  Finally, the family members experience coma and death. P. 152

During sleep, our brains are surprisingly active. Good sleep is very restorative. P. 154-155 Dement, Kleitman and others have long studied sleep. In one experiment, Kleitman and another scientist stayed in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky for one month. Even without sunlight or routine, they still had a series of automatic “internal clocks” controlled by a specific area of the brain.  Part of the hippocampus, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, appears to contain a timing device that controls our sleeping patterns. P 155 These processes include, two opposing forces:

Process C — circadian arousal system – fighting to keep you awake.

Process S – homeostatic sleep system – equally powerful, fighting to cause sleep.

Internal and external forces supervise these opposing processes.

All people have their own sleep patterns putting them in to types – early risers (larks) or late to bed people (owls).   About 30 % of all people fall in one of these two categories. The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. Scientists do not know how much sleep we need and there are many variables (age, gender, puberty, pregnancy). Another important question to ask: “How much sleep is too much?” When do we jeopardize our functioning? When do we function at the optimal level? Our answers will be individual because of all of the variables. P. 158

Next time we will finish this Rule # 7: Sleep Well, Think Well

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