an image of a man who sleeps with a microscope

Sleep Science: Learn More About The Intricacies Of Sleep

Scientific researching of sleeping (sleep cycles, disorders and different influences on sleep) is a rather new thing. Many aspects of sleeping are still a complete mystery. On the other hand, during the last few decades, science has made rapid and significant new discoveries about sleeping.

So, let’s see what has the sleep science thought us so far!

Sleeping cycles

First of all, let’s get familiar with what sleep science says about our sleeping cycles. There are two main stages of sleep, REM and NREM. Even though real dreams occur only during REM stage, some dreaming might happen during NREM stage. The NREM stage dreams lack storytelling and dream scenarios, and they are rather realistic. These dreams resemble more some kind of an illusion of a completely normal everyday activity. So, sleep science doesn’t consider them to be “real dreams”.

sleep and the wake up cycle

REM

Three to five times at night we go into the REM stage. This is when our dreaming occurs. During this stage, our brain activity is very high.

NREM

  • Light sleep – the stage one is neither the actual sleeping nor wakefulness. It’s something in-between. Our body starts to relax during this period.
  • True sleep – this is a second stage that is also the longest stage of sleep. During this time our body completely relaxes.
  • Deep sleep – stages three and four are called deep sleep. Our heart rate and breathing are maximally calmed down and we need more time to wake up from these stages.
the stages of a sleep cycle

Now, maybe the biggest question that baffles sleep science is: why exactly we need to sleep? That’s why we are going to dedicate the next part of our article to the famous Randy Gardner sleep deprivation experiment.

What would happen if we didn’t sleep? How does sleep deprivation affect sleep? What mental functions are the most prone to suffer from sleep deprivation? Let’s see!

The Randy Gardner experiment

Since sleep deprivation can have dangerous consequences on physical and mental health, there are not many records of approved sleep deprivation experiments. One of the rare such experiments is the one with Randy Gardner. This experiment is one of the important contributions to sleep science. We shall look into some of its key points and find out more about sleep deprivation effects.

Introduction

In the year of 1964. an American student Randy Gardner participated in a sleep deprivation experiment. He stayed awake for 11 days and 25 minutes and is still an official record holder for going the longest time without sleep. Gardner didn’t use any artificial stimulants during the experiment. After the few days of recovery from the experiment, Gardner didn’t show any signs of mental or other health issues.

Overview

During the experiment, Gardner displayed a noticeable loss of cognitive abilities. He experienced a significant reduction of a short-term memory span. One time, in the middle of the cognitive test he forgot what he was doing.

After some time, Gardner started to show paranoid behaviour and symptoms of severe mood disorders. He was unable to concentrate properly and developed an extremely short attention span. Gardner also expressed reduced alertness and had delayed reactions to external stimulants.

In spite of the reduced cognitive functions, Gardner was still able to express impressive motor and cognitive skills from time to time. It’s been documented that Gardner defeated one of the conductors of the experiment at a pinball game.

Gardner suffered from many episodes of intense hallucinations. Sometimes he was aware that he was hallucinating, other times not.

At one point, Gardner suffered from an illusion that he was a famous football player.

After the experiment was finished, Gardner went through two consecutive days of excessive sleeping.

Conclusion

Sleep deprivation mainly influences mental health and abilities, most of all, memory and alertness. After the recovery period, these symptoms go away.

*For this conclusion it’s highly important to stress that performance of highly demanding physical tasks wasn’t the part of the experiment. Randy Gardner was mostly tested for changes in cognitive functions and general behaviour. So, we don’t have any firm indicator of how would sleep deprivation influence intense physical activity.

The modern technology and sleep science:

The development of the contemporary sleep science came at the same time as the rapid development of the modern technology. Since the sleep science and modern technology are peers, the sleep science had a chance to monitor the influence of electronics on our sleeping habits from the very beginning.

Electronics

Did you know that after the invention of the lightbulb people started to sleep approximately an hour less? Sleep science offers us many insights into the effect that modern technology has on our sleep. Use of electronic devices like computers, TV or mobile phones messes with your sleeping cycle. Some scientists even believe that 24 hours availability of the internet influences sleeping disorders.

an image of a hand leaving a smartphone on a nightdesk

Also, addiction to the video games can cause serious sleep disorders. On the other hand, playing video games heightens the rate of vivid and lucid dreaming. People who play video games a lot start to develop some dreaming abilities similar to ones of creative and artistic individuals.

All in all, sleep science constantly shows us that our dependence on modern technology plays with our natural circadian rhythm. Avoiding the use of electronic devices before bedtime can reduce this negative effect significantly.

Now, for the end, we have prepared for you 15 interesting scientific facts about sleeping.

15 curious sleep science facts

  1. Up to 50% of people who suffer from sleep behaviour disorder (RBD) that makes them enact their dreams during REM stage, can inflict an injury on themselves or their partner, 2014. study showed. About 11% of those people have suffered from severe injuries.
  2. Peter Tripp, who stayed awake for 200 hours, suffered from hallucinations and paranoia during his sleep deprivation. One time, he thought that his neurologist was an undertaker who came to bury him.
  3. Children become hyperactive when sleep deprived.

  4. Skipping sleep for less than 20 hours has an approximate effect of drinking two glasses of beer or wine, or one shot of spirit drink.
  5. Newborn babies make their parents lose between 2 and 3 hours of sleep a day.
  6. Investigations of an accident at Chernobyl and Challenger explosion led to a conclusion that sleep deprivation was behind the cause of these catastrophes.
  7. A study showed that people tend to have unpleasant dreams when exposed to scents they find appealing.
  8. Daylight saving time (DST) disturbs people’s sleeping cycle. There is evidence that a large number of traffic accidents is caused by DST.
  9. Sleep science shows that you actually can never get your body used to night-shifts.

  10. After a short-term sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption doubles its effect!
  11. Shooting a bright light on a back of a person’s knee can influence sleeping cycle. Sleep science still doesn’t have the answer why.
  12. Humans are the only living creatures that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep in order to spend the time in a different way.
  13. Giraffes sleep less than 2 hours a day and can go without sleep for a long time.
  14. Scientists believe that REM stage has to do with brain maturing. Newborns have longer REM stages than the older babies do. Same happens with some animals.
  15. The person being exposed to constant darkness can reduce their need for sleep.

Final words

Sleep science is something that has yet to develop. We live in a time where the scientific approach to sleep has just begun. Luckily, during past decades the number of studies and researchers on the subject is constantly rising. The sleep science has advanced in the past 25 years more than ever before.

Scroll to Top