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Posts Tagged ‘Dreams’

Sleep: A Mystery at the Crossroads of Neuroscience (Part 1)

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on January 7, 2014

By Deepak Chopra, M.D., FACP, and P. Murali Doraiswamy, MBBS, FRCP

Deepak-chopraSleep crops up in unexpected places medically, as in the recent finding that for people suffering from bouts of depression, irregular sleep is often the first sign of an attack, and conversely, getting a good night’s sleep can help prevent the onset of depression. But the importance of sleep has become more global in recent years, involving it in obesity, for example, where bad sleep throws off the hormonal balance that tells the body when it’s hungry.

Even as sleep becomes more critical for all manner of bodily functions, this only highlights the mystery that is sleep. Sleep is certainly a physiological necessity, but neuroscience can hardly improve on Shakespeare’s observation after the guilty Macbeth cannot fall asleep.

Macbeth: Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.

Even in our advanced scientific age sleep rules its own domain, remaining essential without telling us why. Babies spend most of their days sleeping, but why? Why do creative solutions sometimes arrive in our sleep or soon after waking? (“A problem difficult at night is often solved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.” –John Steinbeck) Do plants go through rest cycles that are the equivalent of sleep? (Science’s inability to explain either the mechanisms or the purpose of sleep has been reduced to a geeky punchline: “The only well-established function of sleep is to cure sleeplessness.”)

Such puzzles have been made even more topical by a recent study in mice which showed that one of the roles of sleep may be to clear out the accumulated garbage from the brain. If this was the only explanation, however, then why do we need to spend one-third of our day unconscious — could evolution not have developed a system to clear out trash while we are awake (much like urination or defecation)? Read the rest of this entry »

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How Your Dreams Can Make You Smarter

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on January 5, 2012

New research shows dreaming about a task gives you an edge in real life

It’s late in the evening: time to close the book and turn off the computer. You’re done for the day. What you may not realize, however, is that the learning process actually continues — in your dreams.

It might sound like science fiction, but researchers are increasingly focusing on the relationship between the knowledge and skills our brains absorb during the day and the fragmented, often bizarre imaginings they generate at night. Scientists have found that dreaming about a task we’ve learned is associated with improved performance in that activity (suggesting that there’s some truth to the popular notion that we’re “getting” a foreign language once we begin dreaming in it). What’s more, researchers are coming to recognize that dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing and retaining what we learn — and that dreams may even hold out the possibility of directing our learning as we doze.

(MORE: Paul: The Power of Smart Listening)

While we sleep, research indicates, the brain replays the patterns of activity it experienced during waking hours, allowing us to enter what one psychologist calls a neural virtual reality. A vivid example of such reenactment can be seen in this video, made as part of a 2011 study by researchers in the Sleep Disorders Unit at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. They taught a series of dance moves to a group of patients with conditions like sleepwalking, in which the sleeper engages in the kind of physical movement that is normally inhibited during slumber. They then videotaped the subjects as they slept. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the woman on the tape does a faithful rendition of the dance moves she learned earlier — “the first direct and unambiguous demonstration of overt behavioral replay of a recently learned skill during human sleep,” writes lead author Delphine Oudiette.

Of course, most of us are not quite so energetic during sleep — but our brains are busy nonetheless. While our bodies are at rest, scientists theorize, our brains are extracting what’s important from the information and events we’ve recently encountered, then integrating that data into the vast store of what we already know — perhaps explaining why dreams are such an odd mixture of fresh experiences and old memories. A dream about something we’ve just learned seems to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively. In a 2010 study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers at Harvard Medical School reported that college students who dreamed about a computer maze task they had learned showed a 10-fold improvement in their ability to navigate the maze compared to participants who did not dream about the task. Read the rest of this entry »

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Playing Our Part: Deepak Chopra at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 30, 2011

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