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Medicine Science

The Brain's Secret For Sleeping Like a Log 259

An anonymous reader writes "Why can some people sleep through anything? According to this article in Wired Science, some lucky people have an extra helping of a certain kind of brain static that essentially blocks out noise and other stimuli. These 'sleep spindles' can be detected via EEG, and show up as brief bursts of high-frequency brain waves; some people naturally produce more than others. The researchers say these spindles are produced by the thalamus, the brain region that acts as a waystation for sensory information. If the thalamus is busy producing sleep spindles, sensory information can't make it through the thalamus to the cortex, the perceptive part of the brain."
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The Brain's Secret For Sleeping Like a Log

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:41PM (#33199904)

    being back in a large lecture hall, chin cupped in hand while the distant professor pauses his thickly accented monologue to scrawl something illegible on the blackboard. While a spectacular fall day beckons outside the windows.

  • Throwback? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hedgemage ( 934558 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:43PM (#33199920)
    Wouldn't being a sound sleeper be a liability in the Darwin game? I would think that waking up when there's unusual stimuli would be something helpful to keep from being lunch for a nocturnal predator.
  • Might explain cats (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:49PM (#33199964)

    A cat can sack out on a Ferrari engine running wide open just because it's warm and not wake up until they are in the next state.

  • Re:Throwback? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theheadlessrabbit ( 1022587 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:55PM (#33200012) Homepage Journal

    Wouldn't being a sound sleeper be a liability in the Darwin game? I would think that waking up when there's unusual stimuli would be something helpful to keep from being lunch for a nocturnal predator.

    Possibly, yes, but not everyone has this deep sleep ability, and humans are social animals. it is possible that a balance between deep sleepers and light sleepers offered other advantages. maybe the light sleepers would hear something, then wake the deep sleepers and they could all run away, while if it was a false alarm that woke the light sleepers in the tribe, the more rested heavy sleepers would still be up for a long days hunting...

    (thats probably not even close to being right, but its just an example of what could have been the case - where variety benefits both sides.)

  • Re:Sleep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by P0ltergeist333 ( 1473899 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @11:59PM (#33200034)

    The quiet could be the problem, actually. When it's quiet, then every little noise (and thought) is more prevalent. Some people even have tinnitus and are not conscious of it, and that keeps them awake. I would recommend trying white noise, as it performs a similar service as the "brain static" mentioned in the article. I personally use a fan. Or you can pay a fair bit of money for a more precise white noise generator.

  • by jimmyswimmy ( 749153 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @12:01AM (#33200048)
    I'm one of those log-sleepers.  In college I slept through fire alarms regularly despite the fact that one of the sounders was located in front of my door.  I have never been able to use an alarm clock to wake up reliably, despite locating the clockS across the room so I would have to get up to turn them off - if they bothered me enough to turn them off, I would actually get out of bed, actually switch them off, and go back to sleep - all without remembering.  The second night the baby was home, sleeping in a bassinet next to my bed (six feet away), my wife was pissed at me the whole next day until I finally asked her what was wrong; apparently the baby started screaming, I sat up in bed, pointed at the baby, asked my wife "Why don't you do something about that kid screaming?", laid back down and went back to sleep - I remember none of this.  I can sleep with the lights on or off, although the only thing that actually does wake me is bright light when I've been conditioned to have none.

    On the face of it it is far more of a curse than a blessing.  Sleep is a black hole out of my life from which nothing wakes me (I have woken in the morning on the floor after my wife tried to push me out of bed to get me to take care of the baby back before she realized it wasn't going to happen).  I generally don't even remember my dreams although I know I have them.  As a result I so dislike sleep that I put it off as long as possible and have a light shining in my eye to wake me up in the morning.

    On the upside, as the article says, people with this deep sleeping capability (perhaps such as I have) tend to have good memories and above average IQ.  So maybe there's a good part to this.  But I wish there were room for balance.
  • by nido ( 102070 ) <nido56 AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @12:10AM (#33200122) Homepage

    My memories of going to sleep as a child are of tossing and turning every night in bed.

    My parents bought my brother a waterbed when he outgrew his twin bed. I thought I'd fall asleep quicker in a waterbed than my old mattress, so I pestered my parents endlessly until they relented and bought me a waterbed too. It didn't help.

    I learned about self-hypnosis, lucid dreaming, and "mental imagery" when I was 17 years old. One style of self-hypnosis calls for relaxing the physical body, then relaxing the mind. I was fascinated by the prospects of "internal senses".

    I tried to relax in chairs and on the bed (such as for a "nap") as best I could, but the only relaxation I experienced was fleeting. I'd feel good for a half a second, then I'd notice feeling good and I'd pop out of the relaxation and be stuck in my overly tense body once again.

    Some of the web pages on dreaming (1999 or so) and books that I read talked about a "drifty-dreamy" hypnagogic state between sleep and wakefulness. I tried to relax as best I could in bed. I always passed out before I noticed anything.

    I left for college the next year, and developed something like lupus (lots of inflammation). I thought I had an RSI, but the P.A. and M.D. at the campus health center said there was nothing wrong with me that a little exercise wouldn't fix. I didn't believe them, so I started my own search for answers.

    Many years passed, and I eventually I ended up in the hands of a capable Osteopath who specialized in hands-on therapy. I told him my story: head trauma when I was 17 y.o., swelling and pain in forearms, etc. He did his thing, and over a course of about a year he gradually helped my body's structures move back into their proper place.

    Other disciplines look at a bone that's out of place as if it's a problem. One maxim from early Osteopathy was that "muscles move bones, and nerves control muscles". So rather than directly popping a bone back into place, a skilled osteopath will evaluate a patient to see what causes a structure to be malpositioned.

    The good doctor likened a case such as mine to peeling an onion: stored trauma comes off a layer at a time.

    One night after a few months of regular treatments, I opened my mouth to brush my teeth and noticed that the constant clicking noise in my jaw (TMJ) was no longer present. I opened and closed my mouth a few times in disbelief. The clicking had been with me for about four years at that point...

    I also noticed that I no longer had to "try" to relax in bed before I passed out - most nights I quickly fell asleep.

    Good sleep comes from having a balanced body, and hands-on therapies are one way to restore balance. There are others that I've found useful, but that's a much longer post.

    Attention Insomniacs: Watch for my replies in this thread & story - I'll try to get some more information online shortly. I just want to get this comment posted while the story is still fresh. :)

  • Re:Sleep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blahplusplus ( 757119 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:22AM (#33200542)

    "Yet, this doesn't explain why I can't sleep at 11:30pm when the house is dead quiet. {sigh}"

    You haven't expended enough energy. I find that many people that can't sleep also don't exercise or have sedentary lifestyles. If you add exercise to your life you can bet you'll get tired eventually. You should really only go to sleep when you're tired, when you feel sleepy. I used to have trouble falling asleep until I added walking/exercising an hour or two a day.

    Expending energy goes a long way to solving sleep problems.

  • Re:Sleep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:34AM (#33200604) Homepage Journal

    Actually, I'm fairly confident that I have "Delayed sleep-phase disorder". []

    I usually go to sleep between 02:00 to 04:00. I don't have to be exhausted, I can just lay down and go to sleep like a normal person. If there's nothing scheduled, I'll be awake between 11:00 to 13:00.

    I worked one job where they really didn't care when I slept as long as I got all my work done. That was perfect. I'd send my "end of day" emails sometime around 03:00, and show up to the office bright and shiny at noon.

    Attempting to work "normal" hours has been a problem for me for a long time. I talked to my mom about it, and she confirmed it. I rarely managed to sleep before midnight. I was a complete zombie going to school, and wasn't usually completely coherent until around noon.

    The problem is this. If I work by my schedule (awake 11:00, sleep 03:00), I'm fine. If I force myself to wake up at say 7am, I'm a zombie until noon, and exhausted for the rest of the day. It worked fine when I was a kid. Someone was always around to make sure I woke up. Being an adult on my own for many years, if I'm living with someone I have a chance of actually getting out of bed. If I don't, it doesn't matter how many alarm clocks there are, or how loud they are. Somehow I manage to turn off some alarm clocks sometimes. I've woken up with my cell phone in my hand (I set the alarm on the phone too). When I've been with someone, they've told me that I fumble with things until they shut up. If I can't make it shut up I just roll back over and go back to sleep.

    If I'm on my normal schedule, I can wake up normally to an alarm clock at odd hours. So, if there's something unusual going on at 6am, I can be awake and not groggy.

    Sometimes, if there's something going on, like I have work that must be completed, I can work through a whole night, and still be perfectly coherent the next day. I won't be tired until about 3am the next morning. Something like this:

    Wake Sunday at 12:00
    Do early work Sunday night from 23:00 Sunday to 03:00 Monday.
    Sleep 03:00 Monday
    Wake 11:00 Monday (Beginning of the "normal" day)
    Work through 03:00 Tuesday
    Sleep 03:00 Wednesday
    Wake 11:00 Thursday
    Sleep 03:00 Friday
    Wake 11:00 Friday
    Sleep 03:00 Saturday

    Some employers consider it a problem. If you have an employee who can work fine from Monday at noon (allowing showering and driving to work), and they don't feel the need to stop until early Wednesday morning, why complain? That gives 38 hours of work before normal employees even come in on Wednesday morning. It was pretty easy to comfortably work about 70 hours a week, but I only did it as needed.

    I've tried all kinds of different sleep environments. I like the dead silent rooms best. No white noise, no outside noise.

    I've slept in all kinds of places, including airliners. The time has to be right though. If I take an early morning flight (departing at 7am), I can stay awake the night before, get to the airport, take a nap in the terminal until I hear commotion around me which is my hint to wake up. No problem at all. Once I get to my seat on the plane, I can go right back to sleep, and not wake up for anything until the plane lands. Then I am wide awake and perfectly normal, even though the whole night was interrupted sleep.

    At once house I lived in, I had two window air conditioners at the head of the bed. The house had terrible insulation, and one simply wouldn't cool it down. During the summer, they ran pretty much constantly, and they were anything but quiet. I didn't notice noises from outside though, because the white

  • by dj_tla ( 1048764 ) * <tbekolay AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @01:42AM (#33200630) Homepage Journal

    This is an interesting study, but the conclusion it appears to draw is erroneous at best.

    Take this quote, from one of the study's investigators: "During sleep, our neurons are busy doing very complicated processing, including, this study shows, generating sleep spindles to protect us from being awoken from noises in the environment."

    EEG is such a broad average that it tells us very little about what the brain is doing, just like looking at the NASDAQ doesn't tell you very much about how one company or a group of companies are doing. To suggest that our brain is "generating sleep spindles" is myopic; sleep spindles are a symptom of what the brain is doing during sleep: replaying memories temporarily held in the hippocampus and consolidating then into cortex.

    The correlation between producing lots of "sleep spindles" and having relatively good memory makes sense in this light, as does being hard to wake up during sleep, as a brain that's attending to memory consolidation won't be as sensitive to external stimuli (just like when you're concentrating while conscious). But to suggest that sleep spindles function to protect us from noises in the environment makes no sense at all. Evolutionarily, it's more advantageous to wake up when you are being attacked, or are otherwise in peril. If anything, this research would suggest some kind of limiting factor to the overall intelligence of a society that deals with the environment in that way.

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @03:52AM (#33201172)

    I've been playing around with an F/OSS binaural beat generator called Gnuaural []. Interestingly, some of the "schedules" (frequency vs time) for meditative purposes include periodic bursts of higher-frequency beats (about once every 8-10 minutes) to keep from falling into a sound sleep. I noticed in the article that these "spindles" occur on the order of seconds rather than minutes. It would be interesting to modify a Gnuaural schedule to make the high-frequency bursts occur more often in order to achieve a "deeper" sleep for light sleepers.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @04:38AM (#33201340)

    and books that I read talked about a "drifty-dreamy" hypnagogic state between sleep and wakefulness.

    I suffered from hypnagogic hallucinations for about a year. That and narcolepsy. All of this was brought on by extreme sleep deprivation due to a rather severe case of multi-symptom insomnia.

    The interesting thing about them, the hypnagogic hallucinations, is that you really feel like you are two places at one time. For me it was like a split consciousness. I would be coding at my computer in the morning, fully aware of what I was doing and my environment, yet at the same time I would be in another dimension interacting and doing my own thing there. I think it would have to be very close to lucid dreaming. It was exceedingly strange at some points. Walking down office hallways in one part of my mind, and at the same time being an eagle and flying across the desert. Some of the hallucinations were even more esoteric and had no frame of reference at all.

    I know that sounds bat shit crazy, and yet I did not seek any help for it at all. I figured it was because I was exhausted and getting maybe 8-9 hours of sleep per week. I had too much stuff to do and no health insurance, no time for a doctor anyways, so I just kept pushing on. It never interfered with my work, or my ability to interact with co-workers, and I never had a problem differentiating the dreams from reality, so I just said, "fuck it". Besides, it made the mornings very interesting. Very. Interesting. It never usually lasted past noon.

    A few years later when I finally received medical attention for my sleeping problems the doctor explained that it was my brains defense mechanism because I was receiving practically zero REM sleep at all during the small amounts of time I was sleeping. My brain decided it was going to start dreaming one way or the other.

    Every time I sleep now I get at least 5 hours of normal sleep now. So all of that other stuff went away. I still miss it sometimes though. Hollywood could not hold a candle to the shit my brain came up with some mornings.

  • Re:Sleep (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @05:15AM (#33201478) Homepage

    Looks like nobody's mentioned polyphasic sleep [] so far, so I guess I'll do it:

    Polyphasic sleep is sleeping in multiple phases in a day. So you don't sleep for 8 hours, and stay awake for 16. Instead, you spread your sleep out over the day.

    Although spreading 8 hours over multiple stretches might be beneficial for some, reducing your total sleep time is where it gets interesting.

    A article in Time Magazine from 1943 [] describes how Buckminster Fuller devised a system (called Dymaxion sleep) where he slept a half-hour every 6 hours, sleeping 2 hours in a day. That gives an amazing 22 hours a day to do stuff, build Beowulf clusters of N900s, keep a watch out for the Bat-Signal [], or whatever.

    The biggest problem with minimal, polyphase sleep systems is that you have to sleep on a schedule. You can't postpone sleep for a business meeting or a late lunch. That's the reason most people (including Fuller) have to drop it.

  • Re:Sleep (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @07:39AM (#33202372)
    Xanax. Had the same problem, where my brain would not STFU for days on end. Tried alcohol, pot, vicodins,Ambien, white noise, and was thinking about maybe a bullet through the frontal lobes (yes, 48 plus hours with no sleep drives me to the edge of insanity, not that it is a long trip) Saw a different doctor, just an old GP, after mine had given up, and he asked me if I had tried an anti-anxiety drug. When I said nope, he wrote me a scrip for 100 4mg xanax. Told me to take 1 or 2 as needed for sleep. Tried it and it worked. And the thing I like the most is that it seems taking the xanax disrupted the inability of my brain to shut up. Now it happens every few months, and I'll pop a xanax and go right to sleep. It is infrequently enough that the same bottle of xanax I started with, I still have and it is over half full, and I got it almost 3 years ago.
  • Effected by baby (Score:2, Interesting)

    by metalmonkey ( 1083851 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @08:27AM (#33202724) Homepage

    I found that when my baby < 1 year old is in the same bed I wake at the slightest movement/sound, otherwise I sleep very soundly.
    I'm either worried I'd smother him, or some other protective instinct overrides this function.

  • by Jarik C-Bol ( 894741 ) on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @09:39AM (#33203474)
    or do what i did, buy a heat lamp shade from the hardware store (polished metal cone with a light socket in it) put a 100 watt bulb in it and hook it to a cheep wall wart timer synced with my alarm clock, and aimed the whole apparatus at my bed.. it clicks on just before my alarm clock and is about like suddenly being flung out of a cave into noonday sunlight, but it does the trick.
  • Re:Sleep (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 10, 2010 @11:21AM (#33204650)

    Pretty much everyone on the Internet has delayed sleep phase syndrome. It's easier to cure than you'd expect but does require a change in lifestyle (dont make yourself out to be "helpless" to the disorder). Part of the problem is computers emit a blue wavelength that makes your brain think it's still daytime so when you're on your computer the hour before going to bed it takes longer for your brain to adjust.

    I would highly recommend turning on a fan though. I have delayed sleep phase syndrome just as bad as anyone else and something like a fan helps dramatically for me. At first I thought it was just cause I was too hot at night or maybe the wind helped me sleep but I'm pretty sure the sound of the fan itself is what helps me get to sleep.

Marvelous! The super-user's going to boot me! What a finely tuned response to the situation!