Why do we spend one third of life in a dream?

Why do we spend one third of life in a dream?
Work, friendship, sports, relatives, food, reading – in the daytime there is obviously not enough time to do everything in time. In order to live a full life, many of us make precious hours from the time allotted to sleep. We take a loan to pay a double price the next day. Saturated life leads to a dramatic reduction, if not a failure at all. If there was a disease in the world that would deprive people of a third of precious life, the search for a medicine would be generously funded. This is the holy grail of sleep researchers. Perhaps they felt the thread.

As with many others, it is difficult for us to give up our biological need for sleep because of the cultural code. The practice of sleeping for eight hours on a soft raised platform, alone or in pairs, is in fact atypical for people. Many traditional societies sleep with scraps, and social activities continue throughout the night. Some wake up when something interesting happens, and sometimes fall asleep in the middle of a conversation to end the dispute. The dream is universal, but comes to all differently.
Different species also, apparently, sleep differently. Herbivores sleep much less carnivores – elephants for four hours, lions for twenty – not least because they need more time to feed themselves and protect themselves. Being omnivores, people fall somewhere between these two sleeping groups. Circadian rhythms, the body’s internal clock, allow us to anticipate the day’s cycle of wakefulness and order the body’s functions in time so that they do not interfere with each other.
Our internal clock is based on a chemical oscillation, a feedback loop at the cellular level, which lasts for 24 hours and hides in a cluster of brain cells behind our eyes (near the optic nerves). Even deep in a cave without access to light or watches, our bodies keep the internal schedule almost exactly 24-hour. In the isolated state, our body watches will go slightly slower. If the sleep and wake schedule is not updated with light, we will wake up a few minutes later each day. This deeply rooted cycle can be found in any known multicellular organism, and the rotation of the Earth – corresponding to the cycles of day and night – formed it.
A person’s sleep consists of several 90-minute cycles of brain activity. In the waking person, the electroencephalogram (EEG) readings are very complicated, but when sleep comes, the brain waves slow, pass through the first stage (relaxation), the second (light sleep) and the third (slow-wave deep sleep). After these recovery stages, the brain experiences a phase of rapid eye movement, in which the brain reminds the awake. The people who are awakened at this stage remember what they dreamed of.
One of the most valuable results of the work on sleep deprivation was the identification of clear individual differences: some people work better after sleepless nights, and some vice versa. The division is quite clear and, apparently, is based on several genetic variants that encode the receptors of neurotransmitters, opening the possibility in the future to select a dose and stimulant for a certain genetic type.
At the beginning of this millennium it became obvious that the biological imperative to sleep at least a third of the 24-hour period was excessive and unnecessary. Just as pills and condoms control the birth rate of children, other stimulants will be able to rid us of the archaic heritage of the animal kingdom.
Any remedy for drowsiness should be aimed at the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Exercise functions of the brain are especially vulnerable to sleep deprivation, and people who sleep little are more likely to take risks and less likely to make new or creative decisions or plan their course of action. Design stimulants, such as modafinil and armomafinil, “revive” these areas and effectively overcome the negative consequences of sleep deprivation. For 60 hours of wakefulness, 400 mg of modafinil restores reduced productivity every eight hours in all types of work, from the most boring to the most difficult.
Cool, yeah. However, this is approximately identical to the restorative effects of 20 mg of dextroamphetamine, or 600 mg of caffeine (equivalent to about six cups of coffee). Although caffeine has a shorter half-life and should be taken every four hours or so, it is everywhere and quite cheap.
The fact that design stimulants allow you to engage in long and concentrated work is known to any student of a college or university who drinks energy drinks during a session. Where a more difficult test for a person sitting on stimulants, it would be to teach the grandmother to use the phone. It is difficult enough to design a stimulant that will offer a focus without a tunnel effect – that is, without losing the ability to navigate in a wide environment and make socially determined decisions. Irritability and impatience interfere with team dynamics and social interactions, but such nuances are usually overlooked in drug studies. These problems are largely ignored against the background of enthusiasm in the development of drugs that reduce the need for sleep.
In 1996, defense psychologist Martin Taylor summoned a couple of volunteers and gave everyone a map. There was a route on one of the two maps. The one who had the map with the route, it was necessary to describe it accurately to his partner, so that he could reproduce it on his map. Meanwhile, scientists listened to their talks. In the control group of volunteers, the mark on the map was often presented as a question, for example: “Do you see the park to the west of the roundabout?”. Volunteers who took a modafinil stimulant lowered these feedback loops, instead using jerky and uncompromising instructions: “Go west of the roundabout, then turn left to the park.” Their dialogues were shorter, and they gave a less accurate map than control volunteers. Moreover, modafinil led to the fact that the subject overestimated his capabilities. He not only coped worse with the task, but did not notice it either.
One of the reasons why stimulants have become a disappointment in reducing the need for sleep is that we do not understand well enough why we sleep at all. More than a hundred years of sleep deprivation studies have confirmed the obvious: sleep deprivation makes a person sleepy. It reacts more slowly to external stimuli, processes information more slowly, can not concentrate, and the most important indicator is the tendency to quickly fall asleep when you lie down in a dark room. “You get it.” Apparently, the main function of sleep is to maintain our wakefulness during the day.
Since stimulants could not become a biological substitute for sleep, the new slogan of sleep experimenters was “efficiency: reducing the number of hours of sleep required for full functionality. Defense agency of perspective researches DARPA conducts to that to compress a high-grade night dream in some hours. Soldiers in the service will have to function in accordance with their cognitive and physiological skills, without even needing a 24-hour sleep cycle.
Nancy Westensten, a psychologist at the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Army Research Institute, Walter Reed, is looking for ways to keep soldiers alive longer in an attempt to combat the effects of acute or chronic sleep deprivation. She argues that a person’s dream should be viewed as an important resource, like food or fuel. Working with the corps of the Navy, Westensten does not at all attempt to create a super-soldier who will never sleep. It does not even try to improve the performance of soldiers – they are already an elite. Everyone needs to sleep, at least sometimes. But the theater of military operations requires that soldiers be in a state of wakefulness and readiness for as long as possible.
Although the Army and the US Air Force have a long history of using stimulants – it was there that invented modafinil and dextroamphetamine used for 24-hour flights – marines usually do not accept any pharmacological interventions. Like Westensten, Chris Burke of Advanced Brain Monitoring, one of DARPA research partners, says he is wary of stimulants. “Sooner or later a stimulant appears, it seems to work well and attracts interest, and then no one hears about it anymore, because it has limitations and problems.”
Some failed Air Force missions drew attention to the danger of paranoia caused by taking amphetamine. Less than ten years after the ban on US amphetamines by the US Air Force in 1992, “marching pills” were quietly returned for use by combat pilots during long missions in Afghanistan. On April 17, 2002, Major Harry Schmidt, one of the best combat pilots, flew on an F-16 fighter over Kandahar. Canadian soldiers under him carried out the operation, and the dispatchers ordered Schmidt to refrain from the fire. However, the pilot, who is “under the tablets,” decided that he was attacked, pressed the trigger and killed four Canadian soldiers. This incident led to a field trial, but the media affected mostly the pharmaceutical aspect.
Especially for military personnel, ABM has developed the “Sleep simulator” mask – Somneo Sleep Trainer – which uses one- or two-hour windows for strategic sleep in a mobile sleeping environment. Cutting ambient noise and visual distractions, the mask heats the area around the eyes (believe that it helps people go to sleep). It is also equipped with a blue light, which is getting brighter as sleep time approaches, suppressing the melatonin sleep hormone and providing a quiet awakening.
The ideal sleep contains several 60- and 90-minute cycles, from the slow-wave phase to the BDG phase, but 20-minute siestas are devoted to an early immersion in the second phase of sleep. It is in the second phase of sleep that tired muscles recover faster, and alertness comes back to normal.
For marines in Pendleton camp near San Diego, four hours of sleep or less is one of the harsh conditions for basic and advanced training. The character of the fighter is brought up by sleep deprivation, night after night, however it runs counter to other training goals. Fighters need to be able to safely handle weapons and remember a bunch of information. Scientists have demonstrated that the accumulating effect of chronic sleep deprivation has a bad effect on learning and memory. Deprivation of sleep destroys the sense of learning new skills, and the command recognizes that this is a problem. It is not so easy to wake up a dozen tired soldiers in the middle of the night and teach them to distinguish friends from enemies.
The Somneo mask is just one of many attempts to keep the soldiers’ minds in clarity. Another initiative includes dietary supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids, like fish oil, maintain productivity for 48 hours without sleep – while improving attention and learning – and marines will receive more of these nutritional supplements in the future. The only question is whether the short-term blocking of the negative effects of sleep deprivation can last for a long time. Doctors warn that years of shortage of sleep make us fat, weak and stupid. A growing list of ailments also indicates circadian disorders as a cause.

And Somneo mask, and supplements – in other words, darkness and diet – make it possible to develop “sleep hygiene”, or a set of actions to optimize healthy sleep. They can bring the effect of a truncated night rest to the expected rate – eight hours of satisfied snoring. But supporters of human improvements are unhappy with the norm. Some techno-pushers are ready to go to great lengths to completely get rid of the need to sleep.
Charles “Chip” Fisher, an entrepreneur from New York, sits in front of a clogged bookcase, hands clasped. He is ready to present his product to the Internet. On a polished dark wooden table in front of him lies a device consisting of a power source that supplies an electric current to two spongy yellow spheres. To start recording a training video, Fisher dips his lips in a glass of water and puts them on his head just above the whiskers. The device turns on, and Fisher quietly looks into the camera while pulses penetrate into his skull, into the prefrontal area of ​​the cerebral cortex. His device – approved by the FDA in 1991 – is strikingly different from the “miraculous” products of other products due to the fact that it effectively cures insomnia and other problems. It is also at the forefront of the fight against sleep.
Fischer is the director of Fisher Wallace Laboratories on Madison Avenue in New York, and the consumer electronics industry has become his home since the advent of the vacuum tube when his father’s company brought the Fisher Radio receivers to the market. His speech includes all the details of evening advertising for housewives – testimonials, a money-back guarantee, clips – all emotional arguments that convince the need to buy even rationalists. Fischer acquired a patent for a device for transcranial stimulation in the brothers Saul and Bernard Lissov, electrical engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He believes that the body is a collection of materials, some of which are better spent, and some have resistance to electricity. “We need to pierce the bone and skull, which means we need a high frequency of 15,000 Hz. In combination with 500 Hz and 15 Hz, “says Fischer. “It took 12 years to find these values. The body is affected by frequencies from 0 to 40 Hz. ” Finding a cure for insomnia is Fisher’s largest and fastest growing market. If someone suffers from insomnia, he will try all the ways to fall asleep.
Transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS) is a promising technology in the treatment of sleep problems and improving cognitive skills. The alternating current introduced into the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, through the thinnest part of the skull, has beneficial effects, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), its predecessor. Known also as “shock therapy,” ECT deserved notoriety due to the abuse of this method of treatment, but it remains remarkably effective in combating severe depression. We do not understand how it works at all, and even modern soft and more targeted ECTs are used only as a last resort, when treatment with drugs does not help. Unlike ECT, tDCS uses a very weak charge, which is not enough to excite neurons, but enough to slightly change their polarization.
Electrodes placed on the skull above the hair growth line, at the same level as the temples, create an effect of light tingling without any strange sensations. “We use this tingling sensation to create our fascination paradigm,” says Andy McKinley of the US Air Force laboratory. “The subject experiences only a few seconds of stimulation – not enough to feel the cognitive effects, but enough to feel them with your skin.” After a half-hour session of treatment, he will be energetic, focused and vigorous. Training in the skills of visual search runs twice as fast, and the subsequent dream – if it does not come immediately after the session – is better consolidated, the awakening is faster, and the deep sleep lasts longer. To combat insomnia, this method of treatment is used daily for two weeks. The mechanism may consist of sedative effects: patients taking Xanax or Valium, describe their mood after tCDS as a variation in the reception of these drugs, but without fogging.
Negative effects of therapy on the brain have not yet been detected, and the FDA approved several devices (including Fischer Wallace stimulant) for uncontrolled home use, but long-term effects are still unknown. Neurologist Sorush Zagi and his team at the Harvard School of Medicine are trying to figure out how to conduct clinical trials. When they find out, the potential dangers will be easier to find.
Using several other techniques – transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which excites neurons – neurobiologists from Duke University were able to cause slow wave oscillations, every second burst of brain activity that we experience during deep sleep. Focusing on the central region at the top of the head, slow impulses reach the neuronal region in which a slow wave sleep is generated, and then spread throughout the brain. While the Somneo mask is designed to send mask carriers into a light sleep faster, TMS devices could send us straight to deep sleep at the click of a switch. The complete control of the cycles of our sleep can maximize the time spent in the phase of slow sleep and rapid eye movement, improve the physical and mental effects of sleep, while reducing the sleep time by half. Your four hours of sleep will be equal to another’s eight. You could read through the book a week.
The only question is whether the strangeness of this idea will become a hindrance to its adoption. If society rejects a reduction in sleep, this does not become a biological problem; resistance is purely cultural. War with sleep is inextricably linked with the debate on improving people, because an eight-hour consolidated sleep is the ultimate improvement in cognitive abilities. Drowsiness and loss of concentration create a huge market for pharmaceuticals that should be combated. It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if the body had recovered not only during sleep. One of the reasons why we sometimes need to turn off is the greed of our visualization system as a sense organ. Most of the information comes to us in the form of pictures. Metabolism of glucose during sleep, as shown by fMRI, is very different from glucose metabolism in vigorous hours, individual regions are activated in one or another state, but not in both. As soon as we close the eyelids for sleep, a huge amount of energy is released. Just as the aircraft need to sit down for refueling, we must sleep so that our brains are ready for the next day. Radical sleep reduction will require the equivalent of refueling on the fly.
Of course, such attempts will face a powerful cultural resistance and cries of “what is natural, it’s not ugly.” The perception of what is within the normal range dictates what an increase in a person’s performance is medically acceptable, and what kind of ethics council is waiting for. And do not care that these curves of Bella have changed throughout history. I do not care that we started to fight insomnia exactly since Ilich’s light bulb turned every cave into the May afternoon.
Our modern sleep habits have long since ceased to be natural and are very different from sleep habits of our ancient ancestors. In the 1990s, psychiatrist Thomas Wer of the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland conducted an experiment on the relationship between complex sleep rhythms and natural lighting schedules. Falling asleep at dusk and waking at dawn, the volunteers experienced an antison in the middle of the night – a two-hour period of meditative calm, during which the levels of prolactin jumped. And this is confirmed by historical records from pre-industrial times: the first modern English households saw “first dream” and “second dream”, and the time between them was used for prayer or communication with family members.
Improvement of the person is now being pushed by military imperatives, at least in the US, because civil society is more conservative in its approach. Dedicated units, such as the US Air Force’s Office of Human Performance, are trying to make people better in what they are given by nature. Every hour of sleep takes an hour off work, finding partners or raising children; if sleep does not have an important adaptive function that could pay for the cost of doing nothing, it can be “the greatest mistake of the evolutionary process,” says Allan Rechtshaffen, a sleep researcher at the University of Chicago.
If technologies like tDCS become safe and widely available, they will lay an alternative path to human longevity, prolonging our conscious lifespan by 50%. Many of us appreciate the time we spend in bed, but most of the sleep we spend unconscious is to remove them and you would not even notice. Well, what kind of pill do you choose, red or blue?
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