Every single day there are thousands of lab coated geniuses out there pushing the envelope of scientific knowledge further and further. It is easy to forget in our daily lives, but some people spend their days experimenting in a huge range of scientific fields and disciplines and the things that they are discovering can have huge impacts on our lives.
One exciting area of research is sleep. We all sleep, yet for so long we have not really understood that much about it. Now though, with the huge amount of awesome experiments and studies that are being conducted, we are finally starting to understand the underlying mechanics of sleep and the ways that we can improve and manipulate our sleep. So what experiments are we talking about? Here are eight incredible sleep experiments you probably didn't know about.
Experiment One-- The sleep switch
The first set of experiments are being conducted at Oxford University and are focused on finding out how we fall asleep. They have just discovered that there is a ‘switch’ that is flicked by a certain molecule that puts us to sleep. This switch is literally the switch for consciousness. It is the same switch that is thrown when we are anaesthetised. The researchers have found the molecule that throws the switch and in coming years we could have a way of simply switching on and off consciousness. Good bye insomnia forever.
Experiment Two-- Appetite regulation
Another set of experiments have been looking at the connection between sleep and our appetite. Researchers had noticed that the levels of the two hormones that regulate our appetite, ghrelin and leptin, were at different concentrations depending on sleep amounts. They decided to dig a bit deeper and found that the connection was direct and consistent. In individuals who are sleep deprived (meaning just an hour less than normal), the leptin levels are lower while the ghrelin levels are higher. Leptin reduces appetite and ghrelin increases it. Less sleep means you are hungrier.
Experiment Three-- Emotional control
In a third experiment researchers are looking at the connection between sleep and emotion. If you have felt that after a bad night’s sleep you are more easily upset and that your emotional stability suffers in general then you are not alone and there is scientific evidence to back it up. It seems that sleep plays a role in regulating our emotions. In particular the REM period of sleep is vital to our emotions and if we have even just 20 minutes less REM sleep people will be far more emotionally unstable.
Experiment Four--Memory recall
Sleep and memory have also been long linked but it has only been recently during a set of experiments that researchers have really proven how connected they are. It turns out that even an hour less sleep a night can have a dramatic impact on the ability to recall facts and information from the day before. Sleep is a time when the memories are processed and stored ready to be recalled. The most important time for this is during the REM sleep so if that is broken then the memory recall will be severely compromised.
Experiment Five-- Brain washing
Brain washing may sound like something that the KGB do, but recent research has shown that we all wash our brains each night. As the brain works during the day a number of toxic chemicals build up. When we go to sleep our brains actually shrink to a smaller size, leaving more gaps between the brain. The body washes the brain out while we sleep as it is the most opportune moment. While researching this the experimenters found that those people who had chronic sleep problems were more likely to get Alzheimer’s and other brain related conditions. They believe that the toxins are responsible for the brain degradation that causes these neurological issues.
Experiment Six-- Consolidate motor skills
Not only does sleep play a role in our memory but it also helps with muscle memory. A number of recent experiments have shown that people who learn a new task the day before and have a good night’s sleep are far more likely to be able to remember the motor skills needed for that task than those who didn’t sleep well. One experiment looked at piano players who had been taught a new song and found a massive difference between those who’d slept well and those who hadn’t.
Experiment Seven-- Gender sleep differences
Ladies, you have a good reason for being more tired than your partner. A new set of experiments has found that women need more sleep than men. The experimenters found that women need around an hour extra each night to have the same levels of restedness as men. Another study found that women spend more time in bed than men but less time asleep, indicating that women are struggling more with sleep related issues than men.
Experiment Eight-- Depression
There has long been recognised a connection between sleep and depression but a recent study proved it, it showed that sleep duration and depression levels are connected. The study looked at 1,788 adult twins and discovered a gene that is linked to both sleep duration and depressive symptoms. The findings suggest that people who have shorter sleep periods than the normal seven or so hours a night have increased genetic risk for depressive symptoms.
If you think that science is sleeping you are wrong. Every single day new discoveries about sleep are being made and while some may not have much influence on your life, others could hold incredible future promise so fingers crossed that these researchers are able to turn these scientific discoveries into actionable real world treatments and inventions so that we can all benefit from them.
One take home from all of the above is that getting the right amount of sleep (roughly 7 hours) each and every night is the single best thing you can do with regard to your sleep health and health in general.
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