Rethinking Sleep

Disclaimer: this gets complicated. Sit down and put your thinking cap on. 

We all sleep. Well all of us except that one guy from Vietnam. But we really don’t know a whole lot about it. There’s actually a bunch of data out there, but we can’t tie it all together. Here it goes.

Animals in the wild live longer, and sleep less. Well they definitely sleep less. The numbers aren’t super clear on the longevity. And rightfully so. There are predators in the wild. Draw your own conclusions. Here are mine: the captivity produces the same strain that harms and ages humans. The same strain that were trying to avoid to think our best, see our best, and be our best.

Black people don’t sleep as much. So in this article, and actually going back to slavery, we basically just assume that this is a bad thing. “Generally, people are thought to spend 20 percent of their night in slow-wave sleep, and the study’s white participants hit this mark. Black participants, however, spent only about 15 percent of the night in slow-wave sleep.” Just assume that it’s as bad thing, when we don’t even know what sleep is. Turns out, it’s not. In a previous post, I talk about black people seeing better and not drinking coffee, and how that could give them a leg up in athletic events. What I’m saying here though, is that less sleep is not necessarily a bad thing. Quantity doesn’t matter here, it’s quality.

We do know this: Other things that effect sleep: blood sugar, anxiety, depression, stress. Does that list look familiar?

That really is not the whole story though. There are brain waves during sleep, and there are different brain waves through each cycle of sleep. The slowest brain wave cycle is delta waves. It’s the recovery wave, and the wave of dreamless, meditative sleep. Some people [like Zen masters] have learned how to consciously get to this state. For the sake of this article, there are delta waves and non-delta waves, or meditative and non-meditative.

If you’re curious, here’s why this simplification is possible. Some people say there are four types of brain waves, some people have three, etc. What distinguishes one from the other is the frequency, or basically the speed of the wave. If you looked at your brain like a heart, you’d just see “brain beats.” We don’t call slow and fast heart beats anything different. I don’t know how this became the standard unit in brain measurement. It cycles through these waves at different amplitudes. So if we assume all the amplitudes are the same, all we care about is frequency. When we look at frequency, the delta wave is the absolute zero, or as close as we can get while we’re alive. 

Moving on.

Delta waves are all that really matter. When your brain is beating it’s slowest. Here’s the deal though, when you’re awake, you don’t actually get to the supposed delta state, but just like your heart rate [generally speaking] slower is better.

Lack of REM sleep can alleviate clinical depression. So wait, REM sleep is good for us, but a lack of it helps people with depression? Coming back to this question. The meditative sleep is the most important. REM sleep, I’m sure has it’s own purpose, but delta waves what we’re looking for.

The amount of time you spend in each stage also depends on your age. Wait, we know that our mind strain increases as we age. I think we’re finally getting somewhere. Elderly adults typically have relatively short periods of slow-wave sleep and fewer of them. In other words, sleep is lighter and more fragmented with brief arousals or longer awakenings throughout the night [article]. Given what we know, late childhood may well be the “golden age” of sleep during a lifetime. Beyond the age of 11 or 12, sleep disturbances begin to creep in. In fact, nearly 7 out of every 10 adults experience problems that affect sleep quality. [source] You know what else we say depends on age? Vision.

from Wikipedia:

Women have been shown to have more delta wave activity, and this is true across most mammal species. This discrepancy does not become apparent until early adulthood (in the 30’s or 40’s, in humans), with men showing greater age-related reductions in delta wave activity than women.

We have more delta wave activity as newborns than any other time in our lives.

Alcoholism has been shown to produce sleep with less slow wave sleep and less delta power, while increasing stage 1 and REM incidence in both men and women. In long-term alcohol abuse, the influences of alcohol on sleep architecture and reductions in delta activity have been shown to persist even after long periods of abstinence.

Other disorders frequently associated with disrupted delta-wave activity include: Narcolepsy, depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and juvenile chronic arthritis. 

Delta waves are key to fully understanding the brain. Unless you decide to take the non-traditional approach: the eyes.

Good sleep is a symptom. Not of a disease or anything negative. Good sleep is an indicator that you’re doing something right. There’s an extensive list of reasons you may be sleeping poorly. I think there is only one. But let’s be clear and not put a number of recommended hours for sleep. If you wake up and you feel rested, you did it right.

You can’t control your sleep. Well, at least not directly. Control what you can. But make the right assumptions: you still have the ability to sleep just like you did when you were fifteen.

Here’s what’s important: you were designed to sleep perfectly. Just like you were designed to see perfectly. The further you are from your ground state, the more restorative sleep you’ll need every night to recover. If you can fix your vision and your mind, you will fix your sleep, and probably slow down the aging process.


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