High 5: Sleep Insights

Psychology professor Lawrence Wichlinski’s spring term “Sleep and Dreaming” course was the newest iteration of a class he’s been teaching for 23 years. (Though, he says, he’s been sleeping all his life.) Here are Wichlinski’s five takeaways:

  1. counting sheepcounting sheep Photo: Greg Mably Your brain cleans itself when you sleep. “When you sleep, your cells shrink so fluid can go through and wash away toxins that accumulated while you were awake. It makes intuitive sense, but scientists weren’t able to show that until about five years ago.”

  2. Most people aren’t strictly day or night people. “If you can’t seem to fall asleep before 11:00 p.m., you’re probably a night person. If you naturally wake up at 6:00 a.m., you’re probably a morning person. But a lot of us are somewhere in between.”

  3. Your circadian rhythm ages with you. “When you’re little, your circadian rhythm makes you go to sleep earlier. In your teens, it starts to fall later. Then it stabilizes for a while and starts to move back. Once you get into your elderly years, well, my dad goes to sleep at 8:00 p.m.”

  4. You can get too much sleep. “Some people are vulnerable to oversleeping: their circadian rhythm is out of whack. It’s not
    a well-studied phenomenon, but we have data from self-reports that indicate if people get more than 10 hours of sleep, their performance and mood actually decline.”

  5. Nightmares might provide an evolutionary advantage. “There’s no scientific consensus as to whether dreams have a specific function, but one theory is that dreaming evolved as a way to rehearse potentially threatening situations that we might encounter when we’re awake. This might help us avoid potential threats and prepare us for evasive action.”

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