New Project: Smart Sleep

After a long summer break, a new post to break the silence. My new project is called Smart Sleep. It is of course about sleep, and specifically how sleep or sleep patterns can be enhanced by applying one of many new scientific insights of recent years.

A while ago I read in ‘Nurtureshock‘ by Po Bronson, about melatonin production changes in adolescents, and how this can lead to chronic sleep reduction and reduced cognitive abilities. Especially because this age group is still in school, where they should be learning instead of napping, it seems an important and worthwhile cause to look into.

I have my own experiences from years ago, and remember how easy it was to stay up late, and how hard to get up the following morning. How I learned to sleep sitting upright with my hand under my chin, convincing but the most observant teacher that I was just looking down at the table.

Controversially, at the kick-off meeting for this project, Peter van de Graaf talked about how teenagers have a great ability to function without sleep, much better than most adults. So where and how do these two phenomena overlap, or do they?

Another interesting angle for this project could be the perception of sleep problems, by the people who are experiencing them. One very stark example is one I learned about on our trip to the Kempenhaeghe Sleep Institute. We were told about a man who had severe sleep-apnea, so much so that his blood oxygen level dropped to under 85%. Sleep-apnea is when during your sleep, you stop breathing, only resuming when the body becomes distressed, thereby waking up from deep sleep. This would happen in a continuous cycle during the night. You can imagine how that would interrupt your sleep, and make you tired during the day.

Professor Pevernagie from Kempenhaeghe, told us that most people could not hold their breath until their blood oxygen level dropped to only 85%. But this man reported that he slept very well, in fact he could sleep almost anywhere, any time!

I find it quite interesting that one situation could have such different perspectives. Short of having a patient sleep in the sleep-lab and showing him the videotape and statistics afterwards, what else can be done about making patients aware of their condition, be it good or bad? Would being more aware help them in any way, perhaps to stick to a prescribed therapy better? I thought the hold-your-breath-test is a great little trick to make an abstract number quite tangible. Are there more intelligent solutions to these awareness questions?

A third area of interest for me, is the influence that the body has on sleep pattern and quality. We are told that practicing sports will help you sleep better at night, but you should not do it just before bed and not excessively. There is a strong link between poor athletic performance and sleep deprivation. And has no experienced the effect of a windy day at the beach on our sleep? People with jet lag are advised to practice sports outdoors in their current time zone, to help their bodies adapt faster. What has effects and what has not, and how can we use the most effective influences to enhance sleep?

I started reading some medical journals on sleep where I learned a lot on the basics of sleeping and day-night rhythm. In the next few posts, I will review them in more detail.

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