The Secrets of Sleep

Why we sleep talk, how to lucid dream and what happens when sleep goes wrong...
20 January 2015
Presented by Chris Smith, Kat Arney
Production by Graihagh Jackson.


Most people spend around a third of their lives asleep, and yet we know almost nothing about what goes on in the land of nod. So this week we're going "under the covers" to investigate the science of sleeping including hearing from sleep talkers, probing the world of lucid dreaming and finding out what sleep deprivation does to the brain. Plus, in the news, the missing Beagle 2 probe is pinpointed, how the ingredients for life on Earth could have been cooked up in comets, and the computer that knows you better than your best friend...

In this episode

Beagle 2 Probe

01:07 - Beagle 2 found

12 years after it went missing on Mars, the Beagle 2 probe has been found unharmed...

Beagle 2 found
with Professor Andrew Coates, UCL

12 years after it vanished without trace during its descent to the surface of Mars, the Beagle 2 lander Beagle 2 Probehas been found! The probe was presumed to have crashed and been destroyed, but high-resolution images from a NASA orbiter have revealed that it did make it to the surface of the planet, after all. Graihagh Jackson has been following the story and spoke to UCL's Andrew Coates, who helped to build and launch the bowl-shaped probe, back in 2003...

Andrew - The mission that Beagle was supposed to do was to be a lander to go to Mars, to land on the surface, look for signs of life on Mars. And so, there were a number of different instruments onboard to help with that, including images, but also x-ray fluorescence and other techniques of analysis. But it was just a fantastic project to be involved with. Successful launch, of course, in 2003 and we were all so excited about the possibility of, not only getting into orbit around Mars with the Mars Express Orbiter, but getting into the surface as well.

Graihagh - This would have been the first UK-led mission to set foot on Mars. But sadly, it was not to be. Here's a clip from the late Colin Pillinger, the probe's principal investigator, at a press conference...

Colin - Unfortunately, we don't have any Beagle data in the telemetry for this path, but they haven't yet checked whether the radio signal is working. But they don't have any reason to believe that it wasn't working.

Male - Are you worried?

Colin - Not yet.

Graihagh - Beagle 2 was transported to the red planet by the European Space Agency's Mars Express Orbiter. It successfully launched the probe on Christmas day of 2003 and even sent back a picture of Beagle 2 receding into the distance and down to the dusty Martian surface. What happened was a complete mystery. Judith Pillinger, one of the Beagle team...

Judith - It would have been convenient if we'd have got the signal at the first opportunity. Everyone could have clapped and gone home and enjoyed a happy Christmas. As it is, people have to hang around a bit longer and come back for more of the same.

Graihagh - But on Friday, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped a picture of what is believed to be the Beagle 2 Lander. I asked Andrew Coates about how he felt about this extraordinary news...

Andrew -  Really excited! I mean, it's just amazing. It's like a long lost friend really because on a Christmas Day in 2003, there we were waiting for the data to come back. Unfortunately, it didn't come. So now, it really provided some closure actually, having seen this shape, which looks like Beagle on the surface.

Graihagh - Do we know what happened?

Andrew - Not 100%. There are many things which could go wrong. There was about 75 different things in the sequence from the top of the atmosphere, going through the heat shield and then the parachute deployment and then finally, the airbags dropping onto the surface, being the right way up and the solar panels deploying. So, all that is a sort of simplified sequence of what was really several minutes of terror, as NASA would say, as we waited for the thing to actually work.

Graihagh - Is there any opportunity for quick fix - Curiosity could perhaps come on over and fix it?

Andrew - Curiosity is for much too far away. But one possibility which we could consider of course is suggesting the ExoMars landing site is actually somewhere near. And we pile some jump leads on to go and kick-start the thing, but it will be a dream to actually go and see what's happened to it or maybe just chip open that final one or two solar panels and have it transmit.

Graihagh - So, it could've actually collected some data?

Andrew - Yeah, that's the possibility because it got far enough that two of the solar panels, at least possibly, three deployed. Of course, it had battery power anyway, which was left over from being charged on the Mars Express Orbiter before it was separated. So, there would have been enough charge and the computer would have started and so on. So, the popup mirror would have popped up. So with that, the idea was, we'd be able to see a panorama, including the horizon of Mars.

Graihagh - Sounds like a beautiful image. What sort of lessons to be learned here?

Andrew - Well, there are a number of lessons to be learned. First of all, you wouldn't necessarily build this in the same way. It was really critical that - I mean, everything was sort of packed in like a pocket watch if you can imagine that. We don't know exactly why it didn't deploy completely. But what we do know is that the entry, decent and landing all works. I mean historically, this makes this really important because only Russia, with the first landing on Mars, Mars III, which landed and sent data back for about 15 seconds or something like that; and then the Americans, with their various landers on Mars starting with Viking and going on through you know, up to Curiosity. So, there's Russia, America and now, the UK and Europe have landed on Mars successfully. It's a soft landing. The only thing which didn't happen was unfortunately, transmitting information from the surface.

Graihagh - I feel like the UK and EU deserve a pat on the back.

Andrew - Absolutely, yes. So, it makes us really proud to be from the UK, from Europe and of course, Colin Pillinger with the vision to put this together because of course, it was his vision to actually have such a lander on Mars Express. I have to say, the Mars Express Orbiter has been very successful in the over 10 years it's been on orbit around Mars. So, Beagle's place in history is really assured.

Facebook Like

07:07 - Facebook knows you better than a friend

How well do your friends know you? A computer that uses Facebook "likes" is a better predictor of your personality than your mum...

Facebook knows you better than a friend
with Dr David Stillwell, University of Cambridge

How well does your best friend, or even your mother, know you? And how do you think their judgement of you would compare with a computer? Facebook LikeNew research out this week in the journal PNAS reveals that the computer is a better predictor of your personality than either of them. Cambridge scientist David Stilwell has created a program that can use the things you like on Facebook to make detailed personality judgements. Interestingly, as few as 10 likes provide a more accurate picture of you than a work-colleague can. Chris Smith reports...

David - Well, this is the culmination of about 8 years research. So in July 2007, we put a test on the Facebook social network and got people to take the personality test and then get feedback on the results. As part of that, they could opt in to share their Facebook likes. Over the past 2 or 3 years, we've been interested in how accurately we can predict someone's personality, just from their Facebook likes.

Chris - In other words, by trawling across a lot of data about what people self select to say that they have a liking for, then you're able to draw conclusions about what sorts of things in general will be true of that particular person.

David - Exactly. So, there are about 100 billion things that people can like on Facebook. So, they've got a massive choice to choose from. On average, people like about 220 different things.

Chris - Do you have to be a very prolific user of Facebook for you to get an accurate appraisal?

David - Well, given an average number of Facebook likes, the computer is actually as accurate as someone's spouse at understanding their personality. So that's more accurate than their family, more accurate than their friends, and they're far more accurate than their work colleagues.

Chris - When you say you know them better than their spouse, what sorts of things can you say you know?

David - So, this is based on the self report questionnaire that people did. So, we measured 5 traits in the self report and these are the so-called big five personality traits. It's quite broad factors such as how extroverted you are, how open to new experiences, or how sort of agreeable so that means interested in social welfare versus quite competitive.

Chris - Are there wider implications and uses of these?

David - So, the immediate implications are for personalizing people's online experience. So, deciding which adverts you view and hopefully, making those adverts more relevant and more interesting to you. So, that's not just selling you different things, but also, selling me the same things in different ways. So, let's say I'm interested in charities. So, if I view a charity website, if I'm a very conscientious person, so interested in sort of numbers and statistics, then the charity could give me more information about what the charity is doing. If I'm a more emotional person then the charity could tell me stories and show me pictures. So, the same thing is being sold, but in different ways.

Chris - What's really new about this though, David, because is this not pretty much what credit card companies have been doing by watching what I buy, where I buy it and when I buy it for decades to build up a profile, knowing more about my purchasing habits than I do?

David - Well, I mean, what's different about predicting personality as opposed to just correlating people who buy this also by that. What's different about personality is as I say, you can sell the same thing in different ways. You can also get an understanding of what is this person that I'm selling to. So I mean for me, it's more of a throwback to the past. In the past, you used to go to a shop and the shop keeper would treat you like an individual person and would sell to you as an individual, knowing your psychology. When the internet came along, that kind of went away. In the name of efficiency, we gave everyone the same experience. But now, we can go back to kind of the possibility of treating people like individuals rather than just numbers.

Chris - Lastly, how does this go down with consumers? Do people think this is a good idea or people concerned?

David - Well, I personally find it quite creepy, that it's possible to make these predictions. I think from...

Chris - You invented it.

David - It's not just my predictions, but even the other predictions that are being made. I think the reason I find them creepy is that I don't understand why I'm seeing the things I do online. So, Facebook is showing me adverts, Google is showing adverts, lots of companies are showing me things, and I don't understand what data they're using behind the scenes to make those predictions. That doesn't have to be the case. A company could say, they show me an advert and you could say, "You're seeing this because you're an extroverted person or because you're well-organised."


11:59 - Perceptions of science hold back women

Inaccurate perceptions of science subjects could be putting women off pursuing STEM subjects, according to a new study...

Perceptions of science hold back women
with Dr Ellie Cosgrave, ScienceGrrl

It's a fact that fewer girls than boys pursue STEM careers (Science, WomenTechnology, Engineering and Maths). To date, researchers have come up with all kinds of explanations as to why this might be the case. These include inflexible working hours and a reluctance to enter the cut-throat competitiveness of certain fields. But now a report from Princeton University suggests it's the idea of  'innate brilliance' which contributes most to the disparity between the numbers of men and women in science subjects; in other words it may all be down to how women perceive a subject. To find out more, Kat Arney spoke to Ellie Cosgrave, an engineering researcher at UCL and founder of 'Sciencegrrl' - an organisation which aims to encourage girls into fields like maths and physics...

[Transcript to follow]


15:58 - Comets could have seeded life on Earth

Where did the ingredients for life come from? A new study suggests that deep-space sugars could hold the key...

Comets could have seeded life on Earth
with Dr Helen Fraser, Open University

Life here on Earth depends on a range of complex chemicals, including sugars thatComet are used in genetic material like DNA and its RNA relative. But it's always been a mystery how these molecules got here in the first place. Now a brand new study by scientists in France suggests that, if chemicals contained in ice particles are zapped with ultraviolet rays from nearby newly-formed stars, this can kickstart the creation of more complex life-essential molecules, like sugars. Helen Fraser is a space scientist and astrochemist at the Open University and she spoke to Chris Smith about the study...

Helen - Astrochemistry is the study of where molecules come from in space, how they're formed during the process of star and planet formation. What we see as a by-product of star formation is loads of molecules forming. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, water, methanol, ethanol - they're very, very common in star forming regions. What's interesting about star forming regions is they're very cold, about minus 263 degrees centigrade - so, very cold. And so, what happens is these molecules are not in gas, but they're actually frozen out and they form what we call astronomical ices.

Chris - Would the theory then be that some of these things form in space, drift around as these ices, and then somehow land on a newborn planet like the early Earth for example where they could bring the raw ingredients to make complicated processes like the life process get going?

Helen - Sort of, yes. What basically is happening is when stars are actually forming, there's a huge cloud of gas and dust around it. in that cloud of gas and dust, these ices, these molecules undergo a lot of processing. They're affected by the starlight from the new star which is ultraviolet light. They also get affected by heat. one of the interesting things is all these dusts and ice, eventually is also the material that forms the baby planets, the comets, the asteroids, and eventually, the planets themselves. So, whatever kind of chemistry is knocked up in those small particles is also the chemistry which gives us the naked ingredients which can be delivered to the planets.

Chris - Where does this new paper shed light on that process?

Helen - Well, what these guys are actually trying to do is they're trying to recreate that process of how the chemistry is happening in a star forming region in the lab. they try and recreate the low pressure and low temperature conditions in a star forming region and then they grow a model of this interstellar ice, this solid material that's made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. And then what they do is they shine a light on it. this light is essentially an ultraviolet light, simulating what the starlight is doing. When this hits the ices, it basically stimulates lots of different chemical reactions. and then you warm the ice up as if the star is warmed up and the ice appears to disappear. But what's left behind in the experiment is actually what we call technology in the fields, 'yellow gunk'. So, we know from work that was done about 12 or 14 years ago that inside that yellow gunk, there are some amino acids. What this paper is showing is that also, inside that yellow gunk, there are sugar type molecules and sugars. They're also of biological interest.

Chris - What are the sugars and why might they be important?

Helen - The sugars that are actually here are glycolaldehyde and glyceraldehydes. Both of these sugars are very important in terms of synthesis of RNA.

Chris - This is a form of genetic material, isn't it?

Helen - Yes, which comes before DNA. So, one of the key propositions in terms of evolution of pre-biotic life is that first of all, we have what we call an RNA world which is dominated by this material and then we move to a DNA type world that we expect to see now. So, if you like, sugars are even a step before that. they're required to make that next synthetic step in the biology.

Chris - When they analysed the material, can they be reasonably confident that what they think they're analyser is saying is in there is what's really in there? In other words, when you do the chemical tests on the yellow gunk and it says there are these sugars there, is it possible that you've actually changed the chemicals in the course of doing the experiment to test for them?

Helen - Well, this is a really good question and actually, it's part of the reason why there is some controversy around this and experiments like this. So, what they do is actually dissolve the yellow gunk in some liquid. It's a little bit like dissolving sugar in a cup of tea, but rather than using hot water, you often use an acidic material. It can sometimes lead to different kinds of chemistries. It's a little bit hard from this paper to know how much that's adjusted the chemistry. and so, I think time will tell on that one. That will be an interesting debate for the community to have, whether these very complicated sugars are really absolutely there or also products of the analysis step.


21:10 - Do teenagers need longer in bed?

Should we be adapting our lifestyle to suit our sleep needs? A new study with teenagers suggests we should be considering it...

Do teenagers need longer in bed?
with Professor Colin Espie, University of Oxford

The act of sleeping is universal across all species, but there are big differencesTeenagers between them. Giraffes sleep for 2 hours, chipmunks snooze for 15 hours and us humans, well we sit in the middle of the spectrum at 8 hours. But when and how long should we sleep for? We're told to make sure we get a good 8 hours kip every night to stay healthy, but research suggests that when and how long we sleep changes with age. So should we be adapting our lifestyle to suit our sleep needs? Colin Espie is a professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford and spearheading a ground-breaking study that will mean tens of thousands of teenagers will start school an hour or two later to see if more time in bed and a later start-time for classes can improve exam results. Kat Arney spoke to him about about the experiment and began by asking how sleep-needs change throughout our lives...

Colin - I think a way of thinking about sleep across the lifetime is that, it's kind of titrated or adjusted to meet the developing needs of the individual. So, the newborn baby needs a.) a lot of sleep, and b.) a lot of particular types of sleep. For example, a lot of slow wave sleep for growth, a lot of REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep), because of the coding of all the new learning that's happening. But of course, your learning continues throughout your life, but it doesn't accelerate the way it is from newborn, so you don't need so much sleep. We know that the time you go to school, you're no longer napping during the day - at least your primary school teacher wouldn't appreciate it - whereas your nursery teacher is okay with it. So, there's another change that sleep becomes consolidated into the night time period. Of course, then we have the teenagers who seem to be defying their parents, saying they are not sleepy, and then they're sleepy in the morning. We know that just as their other developmental changes, sleep is affected. Not just sleep but your circadian rhythm.

Kat - Of course, they have to get up and go to school. Tell me about the study that you're doing to maybe try and help them out of it.

Colin - We want to test the hypothesis that a later school start time will pay dividends to the learning of the young person as evidenced by better school leaving qualifications. Now, that is a big ambition. But there's good biological reasons that if teenagers are learning at a more optimal circadian time that they will do better. But that's just one arm of the study. We want to test that with another element, which is a sleep education programme. Often, sleep is missed off the agenda. We talk about nutritional needs, we talk about exercise needs at school but not much about sleep. So, we want to help and want the teachers develop a curriculum on sleep for skills. So these two elements, we will test separately and together in this trial and then the fourth arm of the study will just be as things are at the moment. And by having this design, we should be in the best position tease out what is most effective.

Kat - Do you have any idea of what kind of improvement you might be hoping for? Is this the difference between an A grade and a C grade?

Colin - That's a very good question and I wouldn't like anticipate exactly what the level of difference should be because some people will be markedly helped by this one but we would anticipate, in others, much less and then you end up with an average statistic. It's a bit akin to an intervention that you can use a public health level. So, what we're trying to do is, if you like, shift the whole population curve in terms of its performance. Within that shift, there'll be some people who have benefited more and other people, a bit less, but we don't think it will do harm to anyone. If you ask any teenager, I think they'd be enthusiastic with this study.

Lucid Dreaming

26:14 - Can you control your dreams?

Lucid dreaming is the ability to take control of your dreams. But how do you do it...?

Can you control your dreams?
with Tim Post, Snoozon

Every night, each and every one of us has, on average, 5 dreams lasting between Lucid Dreaming15 and 40 minutes. They can be exciting, frightening, funny and, sometimes, totally mad. But are they random, or can we control what we dream about? Tim Post is an expert in the art of lucid dreaming and started by telling told Chris Smith what's happening in the brain when you dream...

Tim - It's actually a kind of like a collaboration of the brain. So, the entire brain is involved with generating our dream experiences and there's a bit of subconscious process that is creating our dreams while there's also a conscious process. It's that conscious process that we can actually control as lucid dreamers to reshape our dreams and dream about anything that we can imagine while we are dreaming and that is lucid dreaming.

Chris - If you look at what the brain is doing, and how active it is or not when we're dreaming, is sleep a static thing? Are we at the same level of brain activity, all the way through the night or are there peaks and troughs on what the brain is doing, and where does dreaming fit into that?

Tim - So, we go through this sleep cycling. So, we go through deeper sleep stages and then gradually, our brain becomes more activated and sleeps into REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). Because our brain is more activated during REM sleep, REM sleep is also referred to as paradoxical sleep, in a sense that when you look from the outside in and you see someone being asleep in REM sleep, you say, "Well, he's resting and looks quite peaceful." But if you would actually take a look at the brain, in REM sleep, our brain is highly activated. So, REM sleep has much more to do with activation and learning rather than resting and peacefully lying.

Chris - How does one set about manipulating that process and that activity in order to direct what our dreams do?

Tim - If you know as a lucid dreamer while you're aware of your dreams and you're still dreaming, you know that actually, part of the dream generation process is governed by your own thoughts and reflections while you are dreaming, you could then very simply refocus your thoughts and intentions and reshape the entire dream. So for example, if you're dreaming and you'd like to fly like superman for example, you could just initiate certain expectations and feelings that are accompanying that superman flight. So, kind of refocusing your intentions as a lucid dreamer. By doing so, reshape the entire dream and then notice that you'll be able to fly or do whatever you like.

Chris - Is this something that you do before you actually go to sleep? Do you actually put yourself in a certain mindset which then elicits that behaviour once you're asleep or is it more about training your thought processes so that you can control them once you're asleep?

Tim - Well, that's a good question. Lucid dreaming is not like something called dream incubation where before you go to sleep, think very hard on a particular theme, like for example the superman dream and then you're hoping to dream about that superman flight once you wake up the following morning and then realise, "I just dreamed about being superman." As a lucid dreamer, what actually happens is, you recognise that you are dreaming while you are still in the dream. Like, "Aha! This is a dream and actually now, I know that I'm actually lying in bed asleep with my eyes closed" and in that kind of present moment, you can then take control and initiate any kind of lucid dream that you desire for example, flying or whatever. So, it's a much more conscious live, on the fly, kind of happening.

Chris - Can anyone do this?

Tim - Pretty much, anyone can learn to become lucid. It requires a certain level of dedication and discipline to apply various techniques. Also, you need to be able to sleep for at least - well, let's say, 8 hours or so because otherwise if you are limited in your sleep time, you wouldn't generate that much REM sleep, that stage where lucid dreams are also happening and that will decrease your chances of becoming lucid. So, those are the main requirements and from that, anyone can learn to become a lucid dreamer.

Chris - Do you think you really do control your dreams?

Tim - Well, there are various scientific studies that have been conducted to experiment with this issue, you could say. Lucid dreamers were assigned as research in subjects to execute particular - carry out particular predetermined task in their lucid dreams. For example, making eye signals. Through that, we know for certain that the control is real and in that sense, lucid dreamers can do whatever they like to do in their dreams.

Oh no! I said what?

30:57 - Sleep talking: Why do we do it?

Almost all of us will at some point blurt out nonsense during our sleep, but why do we say what we say?

Sleep talking: Why do we do it?
with Karen Slavick-Lennard and Dr Ian Smith, Papworth Hospital

Almost all of us have at some point been told that we were talking in our sleep Oh no! I said what?the night before. There's that niggling worry that we've blabbed some deep subconscious desire of which we are normally unaware. Graihagh Jackson - professed sleep talker and walker - wanted to understand why we sleep talk and whether there is any hidden truth behind the babble. She spoke to Karen Slavick-Lennard whose husband Adam went through a phase of prolific sleep-talking and Dr Ian Smith, director of the Sleep Clinic at Papworth Hospital to find out more about the condition...

Karen - It sort of started slowly. It went like a bell curve. The more amused I was, the more often he did it. We did get to a point at the pinnacle of his career where Adam was saying many times a night, nearly every night.

Graihagh - I asked Karen to pick out some of her favourites, but she said there were just too many to choose from. Instead, we opted to pick one recording from each category of which there seem to be three. There's the horrendous insults, most of which I couldn't possibly play on the air, but there is this one about vegetarians.

Adam - You know, the world would be a much better place when we get to eat vegetarians. You'll get your five a day with one of those.

Graihagh - Incidentally, Adam has nothing against vegetarians when conscious. The next topic falls into the bracket of how amazing he really is.

Adam - Here's my CV. Why don't you just file it under awesome!

Graihagh - And then there's the absurdly random.

Adam - Jelly fish are attacking! Everybody grab your ice cream guns!

Graihagh - They're just classic. I feel like they're things that you can't even write. They're so random.

Karen - And the thing is that, awake Adam could never come up with these things. People often ask why I think he came and then why he went. I can only ever theorise about that but what I think is that at this time in our lives, we were under extraordinary stresses. We were having visa problems. Adam was having trouble finding an appropriate job and I couldn't work because I was a visitor in the UK. We were in a very painful and difficult battle for visitation with his kids in court. We were in and out of court. So, we were under extraordinary stress and that's when Adam started talking in his sleep. What I think is that sleep-talking man just became this really healthy way for Adam to turn through all of this anxiety and sort of spit it out in a funny healthy way and in a way that was really well-received. I found every single thing he said totally delightful. I never once minded being woken up. I never got enough of sleep-talking man and I miss him terribly. I really do miss him.

Graihagh - Where could sleep-talking man have gone and why did he come and go in the first place? These are questions I put to Dr Ian Smith, director of the Sleep Clinic at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire. But first, why do we sleep talk?

Ian - So, we don't know why people sleep talk. It seems to be an inherited condition. It's very closely linked with sleep walking and these conditions usually only happen in a particular phase of sleep which is very deep sleep.

Graihagh - So, I'm a sleep talker and a sleep walker, but I don't sleep walk and talk every night. Is there a certain trigger that might be happening during the day that triggers me some nights but not others?

Ian - Well, different people have different triggers. Most people are more likely to have one of these episodes if they're stressed. For other people, it will be a noise then they'll start doing their automatic behaviour, the talking or the walking. For other people, it's more likely if they are sleep deprived. So, if they're very sleepy then it's more likely to happen.

Graihagh - Is it something you might take someone into a lab for, for sleep talking and walking if it really was that disruptive in their night cycle, but also I guess for their partner perhaps?

Ian - So yes, we see quite a lot of people in the sleep laboratory because sometimes they are associated with quite violent behaviour where people are acting as if they're defending themselves but they are striking their partner or kicking out. And sometimes it's not absolutely clear that it is straightforward sleep walking or talking. There are other things that happen in sleep. People can have epileptic phenomena. So, it's important to differentiate them and make sure that we're identifying the people with simple sleep walking and talking where we can reassure them. The other conditions, we may need to investigate them further and consider medication.

Graihagh - Investigating patients further involves a night at the sleep lab. Ian gave me a tour.

Ian - There are six rooms and we try and make it a  halfway house between a hospital environment and a home environment.

Graihagh - It does actually look pretty comfortable. It's bigger than a single bed. It's much bigger than my bed at home. Much more comfortable and you've even got a TV and sink, and a little sofa as well.

Ian - Yeah and the patients will come in in the evening and we wire them up, and if you see at the end of the bed there, the complex electronics are then attached. We record brain activity from electrodes on the scalp and eye movements with electrodes on the eyes because one of the things we're trying to work out is when they're dreaming, we would need to record rapid eye movements. We do that by recording from the muscles around the eyes. We measure breathing because one of the things that sets off lots of behaviours at night is interruptive breathing. We record muscle activity to see when they're moving. The whole thing in the corner, that red light is because there are cameras and infrared cameras. So, they switch off the light and they think they're in darkness, but actually, we can still see what's going on.

Graihagh - Given that there's a camera, does that mean you sit up and watch them all night?

Ian - No. So, in some sleep laboratories, they do that. We keep people under surveillance in case they need any assistance in the night, but usually, all of the information is downloaded and scored the next day. We usually have the answer by lunch time.

Graihagh - That quick?

Ian - Yes. It's all processed the next day. So the patients don't have to make more than one trip.

Graihagh - In terms of treatments then, is it more a case of changing your lifestyle rather than medication or is that often a combination of both until they're better?

Ian - So, we would always with any sleep condition, we would start, first of all, with trying to get people to have the best sleep pattern. So, we would always start with those basics. And only if they're unsuccessful, then we would escalate to think about medication.

Soldiers Dismantling Patrol Base in Afghanistan

38:22 - Fighting off sleepiness

Sleep deprivation: an unfortunate reality in people's lives. Soldiers live on just 4 hours sleep a night for months on end, but how...?

Fighting off sleepiness
with Dr Nancy Wesensten, Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience

Work, friendships, exercise, parenting, eating, reading -- there just aren't enough Soldiers Dismantling Patrol Base in Afghanistanhours in the day to get all these things done! So, many of us find our day-to-day activities eating into the time when we should be tucked up in bed. But what are the consequences of sleep deprivation? Nancy Wesensten is a research psychologist at the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland and she told Chris Smith how she's finding ways to fight the effects of sleep deprivation in soldiers...

Nancy - So, we know that in deployed environments, the soldiers report that they're often getting less than 6 hours of sleep per night. So, we're looking at a substantially reduced opportunity to sleep in soldiers in deployed settings.

Chris - What effect does that have on the people when you measure how they perform when they're subject to this sustained loss of sleep?

Nancy - Right. So, when we bring volunteers into the laboratory and we deprive them totally of sleep, which we've done for up to 3 nights in a row, the main characteristic that we see in their performance is their response time to any kind of stimuli is substantially slowed. So, what this translates to in the field environment is basically, your ability to respond rapidly is degraded.

Chris - Do we know why that happens?

Nancy - Yes. We have some ideas based on brain imaging where if we sleep deprive individuals, and then we look at the brain activity while they're awake and sleep deprived, what we see is that glucose utilisation or that is metabolic activity in the brain is reduced. And those areas of the brain that are more metabolically deactivated by sleep loss, that is the areas of the brain that appear to be particularly susceptible to sleep loss also turn out to be the areas of the brain that are involved in higher order cognitive processes such as decision making, anticipation, the ability to formulate novel responses. All those kinds of things that we know are important in the operational setting.

Chris - Do you think that those areas become less metabolically active as a protective mechanism, that the brain is effectively tired and therefore, it turns down their thermostat if you like and just ticks along a bit slower in order to limit damage?

Nancy - That's possible. We don't know the answer to that for certain. But that's definitely a hypothesis that's being investigated.

Chris - What about doing something about it? A strong cup of coffee being at the fairly modest end of the scale, there are also now drugs that increasingly, students, academics, we've got reports that maybe 1 in 5 academics are taking drugs like modafinil which apparently boost their cognition, but also keep people awake. They can do all nighters and things and so, they get no cognitive, no brain decrement from doing this. What about chemically helping these soldiers?

Nancy - We can in fact use drugs or other naturally occurring substances such as caffeine to temporarily boost mental performance to well-rested levels. Caffeine for example, a lot of us use caffeine on a daily basis but caffeine and compounds such as modafinil and dextroamphetamine, they are only temporary patches. Eventually, you do have to make up the sleep that's lost. Now, you don't have to make it up on an hour by hour basis. So for example, if you lose 2 nights of sleep, you do not have to then subsequently sleep an extra 16 hours in addition to your regular sleep to make that up. What happens is that your sleep deepens so that you actually payoff the sleep debt by deepening sleep, but you do have to some extent also increase the amount of sleep you obtain as well. So, there's no free lunch. If you take a substance to temporarily restore performance, you have to pay the price sooner or later.

Chris - Is there a price to pay in the long term? Could robbing Peter to pay Paul in this way lead to long term brain damage?

Nancy - There's no evidence right now that insufficient sleep causes brain damage. We believe based on laboratory results that in the short term, not obtaining sufficient sleep can cause glucose intolerance and things that eventually will lead to type 2 diabetes. But right now, again, the long term consequences of insufficient sleep are speculative. It's correlational in nature.


43:39 - Sleep: Are you getting enough?

What happens to the brain's biochemistry when we sleep, and is sleep deprivation a risk factor for neurodegenerative disease?

Sleep: Are you getting enough?
with Dr Jeffrey Iliff, Oregon Health and Science University

Sleep is essential. It makes you feel better and gets rid of those dark circles under Handsyour eyes, but it's importance goes way beyond that. It's when our bodies repair damage, renew cells, balance hormones, clean out waste products and so much more. Beyond that, sleep also helps support several aspects of mental health, brain function, and long-term wellness. But what happens when you don't get enough shut eye? Jeffrey Iliff has been tackling this question at Oregon Health and Science University and told Kat Arney about the recent developments in his work...

[Transcript to follow]

50:49 - Do your dreams affect how sleepy you are?

Do your dreams affect how sleepy you are? We spoke to Ian Wallace to find out...

Do your dreams affect how sleepy you are?

We put this question to Dr Ian Wallace, a psychologist who specialises in dreams and dreaming...

Ian - Dreaming that you are awake is a common experience and still getting a good night's sleep depends on what type of waking dream you have.

Danielle - A waking dream? Does that mean we can be awake and asleep at the same time? That sounds like we're moving into the realm of sci-fi.

Ian - It is a common misconception that dreaming and waking are completely different states. They can occur at the same time. Examples of this happening are sleep paralysis and lucid dreaming. Dreaming that you are awake can indicate an episode of sleep paralysis where your body is overly fatigued and asleep but your mind is still actually awake. This usually reflects that you have been experiencing poor quality of sleep over a number of days. And so, may still wake up feeling tired. It's a pretty common occurrence and most people will experience it at some point during their life.

Danielle - Sleep paralysis sounds like a nightmare - being awake but not able to move and rather exhausting. Please tell me that other types of waking dreams are not as tiring.

Ian - Dreaming that you're awake can also indicate that you've entered a lucid dream state. This is when you become aware you're dreaming and are able to choose what happens next in the dream. Lucid dreaming is a very relaxing and refreshing dream state. So, this can give you a fantastic night's sleep where you wake up feeling re-energised and ready to fully engage with your day ahead.

Danielle - But wait! I've been conscious the whole time. Surely, that's not a good night's sleep. How could I possibly feel energised when I wake up?

Ian - You haven't been conscious or unconscious, but conscious and unconscious. So, it's not like pulling an all-nighter. A lucid dream enables you to explore creative solutions to potentially stressful situations in your waking life, so that you can quickly resolve them and release any tension that you have been experiencing.

Danielle - But what about if I've been running around playing football in my dreams? Will I wake up feeling tired compared to, if I've dreamt of having a nice, relaxing bath?

Ian - Getting a good night's sleep does not depend on the content of your dream or how active you are in your dream. It is the quality of the sleep you're having but determined how refreshed you will feel when you wake up.

Danielle - We can run marathons or climb mountains but wake up refreshed - a dream come true. But how can we be sure to get a good night's rest?

Ian - The easiest way to creative a restful your sleeping environment is to remove all electronic gadgetry from your bedroom and just make it a simple haven for sleep.

Danielle - That's a change a lot of us will have to sleep on. I hope that will put your mind at rest Alberto. Next week, we'll be sucking up to some experts to try and answer this question sent in from Paul...

Paul - Could vacuum cleaners be fitted to ships to suck or pull the plastic? Alternatively, could we use solar powered floating vacuum cleaners or charge terminals to attract these plastic particles?


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