Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication date: 8/13/2012
When David K. Randall began interviewing sleep science experts for his new book, he expected to find some resolution to his own sleepwalking.
Covering topics from financial fraud to unicycle club meet-ups at Grant’s Tomb, this Reuters journalist knew little about dream studies, parasomnia crimes or the impact of sleep on athletic and cognitive performance.
The learning curve was not steep. He soon recognized the critical overlap of sleep with diet and exercise in the maintenance of a healthy mind and body. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, Randall hopes to convince the most sleep-deprived among us to look at slumber in a different light.
“Sleep isn’t a break from our lives. It’s the missing third of the puzzle of what it means to be alive.”
Randall, who never found a sleepwalking cure, seems to be a critic of co-sleeping families and pushes Edison—a patent office troll and exploiter of Nikola Tesla—as the inventor of the light bulb. The book’s well-written chapters, however, certainly make for an engrossing and balanced read on neuroscience and sleep lore.
One fascinating bit of sleep research featured in the book was conducted by historian Roger Ekirch, who argues that segmented sleep was the dominant form of human slumber in our not-so-distant agrarian past. Ekirch, immersed in rare book collections, kept coming upon references to “first sleep” and “second sleep” and the hour in between when medieval Europeans roused to pray, read, study, contemplate dreams or procreate.
When National Institute of Mental Health researcher Thomas Wehr deprived sleep study subjects of the artificial light we use every day, he found they too began to stir around midnight, lie in bed for about an hour and then fall back asleep again.
According to Randall, Wehr drew blood samples from subsequent study subjects, who reported the hour spent awake in the middle of the night was one of the most relaxing of their lives. Wehr’s findings on the subjects in the meditative period between the two sleeps showed an increase in prolactin… a hormone that relaxes us and regulates our immune systems.
Numerous studies support the theory that splitting sleep times at midnight with a vigil hour in between is what the human body does naturally. Modern living—overexposure of our pineal glands to artificial light and the allure of bright-light, late-night culture— has changed our sleeping habits.
Randall devotes a chapter to the potential of drugs such as Provigil in lessening the effects of sleep deprivation on pilots, night-shift workers and college students.
DARPA has even conducted tests on soldiers to find a drug or procedure that will replace the benefits of sleep. Randall writes, “None of the tests worked. The only way to recover from lost sleep was to get more of it later.”
Quite interestingly, Randall uncovered research about circadian rhythms and physical performance. The idea has been slowly advanced by athletic trainers who once deemed reserving time for sleep and recovery as uncompetitive.
Randall writes in the chapter “Game Time”:
“Here, they realized, was an unseen aspect of competition that could give them one of the few edges left in sports. Manipulating sleep and the circadian rhythm could be the last, untapped method of outflanking an opponent.”
In the chapter, Randall interviewed Texas Rangers head strength and conditioning coach Fernando Montes, who has developed a science-based sleeping plan for his ball team.
Encouraging pitchers to record sleeping and waking times, Montes also requested they evaluate the quality of each night’s sleep on a five-point Likert scale. He instructed the pitching staff to leave curtains up in their hotel rooms so they could wake up to natural sunlight and tutored them on the finer points of taking restorative naps before games.
After a week of the new sleeping plan, pitchers revealed to Montes that they experienced increases in strength, energy, focus and confidence at game time.
“One thing about baseball—and it doesn’t matter if you’re a pitcher or a position player —if you’re successful, everyone wants to copy it,” Montes told Randall.
Dreamland by David K. Randall is a worthwhile read that outlines the curious history of human slumber alongside the intriguing science of a good night’s rest.
Category: Nonfiction, Neuroscience, Sleep