Five things you probably didn’t know about sleep

We all do it, yet it’s still full of surprises…

29th November 2017
Five things you probably didn’t know about sleep © Getty Images

This extract came from issue 259 of BBC Focus magazine - for complete features subscribe here.


1. REM sleep boosts creativity

During REM sleep the concentration of neurotransmitter acetylcholine is twice what it would be when awake. This promotes the altering of connections between neurones, facilitating new links between disparate pieces of information. The Beatles classic Yesterday and Frankenstein are said to be products of sleep.

2. Dreams pervade our sleep

The idea that dreams only occur in REM sleep (EEG reading pictured) simply isn’t true. We actually have dreams throughout all stages of sleep and even when we’re awake, as daydreams. However, it is fair to say that dreams are more common in REM than non-REM sleep as well as being more vivid, emotional, and bizarre.

3. Sleep deprivation is an antidepressant

Sleep deprivation leads to a sort of semi-euphoric state and has been used to treat depression since the early 1970s. Unfortunately, low mood often returns as soon as the patients are allowed to get some sleep. It also has to be used with caution as a treatment – prolonged sleep deprivation leads to impaired working memory and other health problems.

4. Our sleep requirements vary widely

Measures of alertness by testing reaction times have shown big differences in how much sleep we need. In research carried out at the University of Pennsylvania, eight hours did the trick for most people, helping them to maintain their reaction times. But an estimated 5 per cent of the population, including, famously Margaret Thatcher, can get away with five hours or fewer.

5. There is an excuse for late nights (for some)

Early to bed, early to rise doesn’t suit everyone – research has shown that some people are genetically predisposed to stay up later at night and get up later in the morning. For roughly 40 per cent of us, this is the optimum pattern, and we will feel better and be more productive if we stop trying to force ourselves out of bed at 6am.

 


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