Digital Sheep: Dreaming for Tomorrow
Sleep is one of the most impacting and took-for-granted daily activities.It literally affects how your entire day will play out and the health of vital systems. It’s not just closing your eyes, however. There is a lot more to sleep than you may think.
Sleep is defined as a naturally recurring state of reduced consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It allows the growth and rejuvenation of skeletal, muscular, immune, and nervous systems. You can see why it is so important.
The actual stages of sleep are divided into two subcategories: REM and NREM. REM is and acronym for rapid eye movement and NREM for non-rapid eye movement. NREM is actually sectioned out into N1, N2, and N3, with the actual cycle of sleep being N1, N2, N3, N2, then REM. N3 is also known as delta or slow wave sleep (SWS) and is the portion where you attain the deepest sleep. It actually occurs earlier in the sleep cycle and the lighter sleep (REM) occurs just before natural awakening.
N1 is the switch between alpha waves of the brain, which occur when you are awake, and theta waves. If you’ve ever started to nod off and jerked yourself awake, you have just experienced N1 sleep. You may also have hypnagogic hallucinations during this cycle. Your brain actually functions at different frequencies during this transition; alpha waves between 8-13 Hz and Theta waves between 4-7 Hz.
N2 is where you spend a large part of sleep. It is characterized by “sleep spindles” and K-complexes. Without delving into too much detail, suffice it to say that these help your brain become aloof to external stimuli and consolidate memories. This stage can range from 11-16 Hz but normally operates around 12 – 14 Hz.
N3 we talked a little about before, but it ranges from .5 – 2 Hz (delta waves) and is the cycle in which things like sleep-walking and night terrors occur.
REM is the final stage. It’s the point at which most memorable dreams occur. Mammals often experience a form of paralysis during this stage, which is probably a natural mechanism to prevent injury from acting out scenes during vivid dreams.
Hopefully you’ve noticed by now that although it may seem simple, there are a lot of complex steps happening with different wave frequencies. Our brain has a built in clock to control the timing of all these events. This clock is called the Circadian Clock. Together with Adenosine and each person’s chronotype, or the ideal circadian rhythm that determines timing of structured restorative sleep of an individual, it keeps everything in perfect balance.
With all this going on, it is no wonder that there are so many sleep-related illnesses and issues.The good news is that with an understanding of the process of sleep, comes new technologies that will take the burden off of your brain. Carefully synchronized machines will enable you to get the perfect amount of each cycle for your specific chronotype, they will provide the correct amount of homeostatic pressure, and can alter faulty sleep patterns over time.
Currently, we are very limited to APAP and CPAP machines, which are specialized to breathing problems and can be costly, and various audio therapies such as white noise. This is not to underplay the sleep clinics that are now prevalent. They have sophisticated monitoring equipment for diagnosis and often recommend supplementing treatments with exercise and nutrition.
In the future, I believe that sleep will be looked upon with greater importance and individuals will choose to regulate their sleep electronically, rather than rely on their own body to do it for them. Recent ventures to map the human brain will reveal avenues that will lead to even more understanding and possibilities.
The alarm clock has remained one of the few tools in our arsenal to regulate sleep for the past century. We’ve advanced too far in technology not to upgrade our tools at this point. If you had the option to get nearly perfect sleep cycles every time and reduce your sleep debt drastically, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s not just for the sake of sleep but for the sake of physical and emotional happiness. Within the next 10 years consumer products will start hitting the market and soon every home will have sleep devices that will lead to the world being just a little bit more pleasant.
Our descendants will look at our eye masks, alarm clocks, and snore strips the same way we look at the pointed sticks, stone tools, and clay pottery of our ancestors; an archaic but necessary step in technological evolution. For now, we will have to put up with bad dreams, sleep-walking, and snoring. Don’t lose heart citizens of tomorrow. In the end, we will be the masters of our own destiny.