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Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Foal And The Teddy Bear

YouTube is filled with video of mothers "adopting"  infants of different species that have been orphaned.  There is even an example of a mother bengal tiger adopting and nursing a litter of piglets (which in most situations would have been a tasty snack). It seems that the maternal instincts are so strong they can even override a predator's instinct to hunt.

But babies get more than warmth and food out of the deal.  They get to feel "held" by a safe "caretaker".  Harlow's rhesus monkey study (October 2013 post) shows that primates will choose to be with a softer model mother that offers no food compared to a wire mother that provides food. The video below is another example of this and shows that it isn't just primates that yearn for secure connection with others.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Science Of Sleep: Memory, Health, Creativity, And Alien Abductions.

The Science of Sleep

Memory, Health, Creativity, and Alien Abductions

As the mother of twins who slept 4.5 hours per night for the first 7 months and are now sleeping 14 hours per night as teens (whenever possible), I am very interested in the science of sleep. 

I recently attended a City Arts And Lectures talk with UC Berkeley sleep researcher, Matt Walker.  Even though I've already written about sleep deprivation and emotionality, this event was so interesting that I wanted to share it.  In this interview, Dr. Walker spoke about the “epidemic of sleep deprivation” in our culture and the resulting impact on memory, creativity, and health.  He also explained alien abductions and the sensation that you are free falling when you are in bed (see below).

Dr. Walker compared the public attitude about sleep deprivation to that of smoking cigarettes 30 years ago.  Smoking was viewed as cool and media supports this attitude toward sleep deprivation.  People brag about how little sleep they get, and even though the science is clear, the general public has little or no awareness of the high price we pay when we don’t sleep enough.


Here are some of the nuggets I took away from his talk:

  1. Eight is enough when it comes to sleep.  8 hours of sleep for adults is optimal.  When we get less than 7 hours there are measurable costs that are not recoverable by sleeping extra hours the following nights. People who think they do just as well on 5 or 6 hours of sleep, don’t.
  2. Every year when we lose an hour of sleep due to daylight savings time, heart attacks and traffic accidents spike the following day.  And when we gain an hour, they decrease.
  3. Sufficient sleep increases the our capacity to think creatively in problem solving tasks by three times.
  4. During deep sleep, the brain rewires memories from the day by transferring them from the hippocampus to the cortex.  This is like hitting the save button on those memories. This process actually changes the physical structure of the brain as it strengthens the memory traces.
  5. The World Health Organization has considered listing long term sleep deprivation from “shift work” as a cause of cancer.
  6. A pilot study done in the Edina School District in Minnesota changed school start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:25 a.m.  Not surprisingly, students were more alert.  There were fewer discipline referrals and better attendance records.  And, according to Matt Walker, the top performing students had SAT scores that averaged 1288 the year before the change and the top performing students had SAT scores that averaged 1500 after the change.
  7. The deep sleep that is so important for memory decreases as we age.  At 30 years old there are already measurable decreases in this type of sleep.  At 50 years we get 50% less of this deep sleep than when we were teens.  And at age 75 years we get only 5% of our teen levels of deep sleep. 
  8. Sleeping pills do give you fewer hours of sleeplessness but do not appear to add any of the neurological patterns that exist in naturally occurring deep sleep.  One animal study at University of Pennsylvania actually showed that Ambien reversed some of the memory rewiring that had occurred.