Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Digressions on Sleep

As one of the most famous brownish-haired narcoleptic bloggers ever born in Ponca City now living in the 503 area code, I am fascinated with sleep. For purposes of this blog post, this means I shall make a list of the things we seem to do and not do while we sleep:

  • Farting: definitely.
  • Talking: only sometimes, rarely coherently, and usually with poor enunciation.
  • Peeing: this is famously a struggle. I, for one, never pee in my sleep, but I recognize this is a learned behavior that comes with practice, and does not come to all persons with equal ease. My last true bed-wetting experience was actually a couch-wetting experience when I was, oh, I'll say 12. I remember it was on the couch because I remember the whole incident for another reason: my friend George was staying over that night, and we always slept on the couches when he stayed over. Good times. You might think that peeing the couch at 12 wins you the sympathy of your peers and family. Seriously, might you?
  • Crapping: dear gawd I hope not. Moving on.
  • Vomiting: not so much, but it does happen. Here again, I can proudly relate that I did, in fact, vomit the bed, and as with my last bed-wetting experience, it happened during a friend's stayover. This time, I was the friend staying over, and suffice to say that after a long evening of binge drinking cheap beer (chosen intentionally for its terribleness: Safeway Scotch Buy beer as I recall, although it might have been Milwaukee's Best), it's possible to vomit the bed without waking up. Even at 17! I suppose I'm glad I wasn't sleeping on my back or I might have drowned in it like a rock star. Good times.
  • Toward the more exotic, there are cases of sleep sex and sleep eating.
On a not-unrelated note, it has come to my attention that famous narcoleptics of past and present include Jimmy Kimmel -- I already knew that -- but also Harriet Tubman, Harold Ickes, and Nastassja Kinski. Sensibly enough, this page places Tubman in the 'maybe' column along with Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Louis Braille, Kurt Cobain, and Lenny Bruce.

There seems to be no clear scientific consensus on the evolutionary origins of sleep, but this account of worm sleep conveys a promising hypothesis using a lot of science-y words:
Because the time of lethargus coincides with a time in the round worms' life cycle when synaptic changes occur in the nervous system, they propose that sleep is a state required for nervous system plasticity. In other words, in order for the nervous system to grow and change, there must be down time of active behavior. Other researchers at Penn have shown that, in mammals, synaptic changes occur during sleep and that deprivation of sleep results in a disruption of these synaptic changes.
So sleep provides down-time for the body to recover and build, which is certainly intuitive enough. There are other hypotheses on the table and research continues.

I need a nap.

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