Eugie Foster (eugie) wrote,
Eugie Foster

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Sleep and waking

I was dwelling on the nature of sleep and insomnia, which is ironic right now, since, hey, 5:45 am and bing. Actually, early morning insomnia is less of an issue these days since we got Hobkin. Crepuscular critters are more than happy to romp and play at 5am. Insomnia hardly feels like a problem when a person's got a fuzzy beastie frisking about at one's feet, begging for attention :).

Or, err, begging for breakfast.

*feeding the fuzz-head*

Anyway, Matthew saw a show on sleep mechanisms the other day on the Discovery channel. I've always been fascinated by sleep, even when I was just a wee undergraduate with dreams of electrodes and Freud dancing in my head. So even pop-science blurbs rivet me.

Them scientist types have found that there's a chemical responsible for sleep. That is, a chemical in the brain which shuts down all your "waking" impulses and sends you off to nappy-time. This, in itself, is fairly old news. But what they didn't know until recently is that it's always cycling through your system. It doesn't get released at certain times, it's always there. What does get released is another chemical that overrides it, and thereby allows you to wake up. Stimulants like caffeine and amphetamine don't mitigate the "sleeping" chemical, but rather they stimulate the suppressing, "wake up" one.

Neat huh?

There's more. Insomnia, that red-eyed demon of the night (or in my case, of the early morning), is when the suppressing chemical gets outta control, and it triggers even when you should be sleeping. However, researchers now think that insomnia is actually a survival trait. Under times of stress and danger, it was advantageous not to fall asleep. Which makes sense--big bad carnivore stalking your tribe. Probably not the best time to get overwhelmed by a fit of the yawns. Hence, those people whose sleep suppressant mechanisms were hyped up had an advantage. Of course, now, triggers for insomnia are more esoteric than a big, hungry claw-fangy. Doesn't do much good to lie awake at night worrying about taxes.

But still, isn't that cool? Makes me want to brush up my ole researching skills and dig a little deeper for the actual study write-ups. Hmm. Well, actually, probably not. But there's a story in there, I think. Definitely something for the ole idea file.

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