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11854.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 3:30 am Reply with quote

Guys & Gals,
can anyone explain to me in relatively simple terms why we need to sleep? Assuming we ingest enough nutrients, why do we get tired?


11857.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 6:07 am Reply with quote

This is a subject very close to my heart. If sleep were an Olympic event I would be three times gold medal winner.

11867.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 3:10 pm Reply with quote

It's not fully understood, as far as I know, but there are lots of contenders for 'best theory'. It's likely that there are several reasons, including:

To conserve energy. If you were awake, you'd be moving around, and therefore have to find more food and eat it. The problem with this is: Why don't we spend 20 hours a day asleep then, like lions?

To repair and restore the body's balance of hormones, enzymes, muscle fibre, fats, immune systemetc.

To allow the brain to process the information it's gained during active periods. This could involve learning, dreaming, forgetting things...

To stop you getting eaten! If you're tucked up, nothing's going to hunt you down.

11868.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 3:55 pm Reply with quote

I asked around at work (it was a quiet day) and one theory was that the brain needed time to move memories from short to long-term memory. This was "backed-up" with statements concerning amnesia wiping out a days events.

11870.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 7:17 pm Reply with quote

The purpose of sleep is:

– to provide a hint that the oblivion of consciousness is not the end of life.
– to enable you to awake every morning as if born for the first time.
– to get a mini-break from Tony Blair and Christina Aguillera.

11871.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 7:33 pm Reply with quote

The most interesting theory I have come across on the subject is contained in a book called 'Electropollution' by Roger Coghill – now suspiciously out of print.

Essentially it says that the point of sleep (as Gray suggests above) is;

To repair and restore the body's balance of hormones, enzymes, muscle fibre, fats, immune system etc.

Coghill's idea is that these processes, which are carried out by electro-chemical impulses generated in the brain, have been increasingly affected by the electrical fields which surround us at night – overhead power lines, dishwashers, burglar alarms, telephones etc– which have interfered with the brain's natural restorative function.

As a result, sleep fails to carry out its job properly, resulting in cancer, mental illness, a perverse liking for Tony Blair, Christina Aguillera etc.

11872.  Mon Dec 06, 2004 7:35 pm Reply with quote

Does he thicken the theory up with any evidence, or is this more by way of being a conjecture?

11881.  Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:56 am Reply with quote

And does he need an eShop through which to sell his tin-foil night bonnets?

The theory seems to have a resonance with some of those that attempt to furnish astrology with some kind of scientific basis, most notably to sell books. The time of year and the position of the planets would seem to dictate how much gravity/electrical field polarisation/whatever is around for the previous nine months or the time of birth.

However, as can be simply shown, the lights in the delivery room give off about a gajillion times more radiation than anything the sun can give out at that range, and the newborn is under considerably more gravitational influence from the midwife than it is from any portentious planetary alignments.

Now that would be an interesting PhD thesis: Correlation of Psychological Profile Imprinting in Infants Against Midwife Morphology and Lunch Density.

Come to think of it, maybe 'destiny' is simply a mis-spelling...

11906.  Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:02 pm Reply with quote

the newborn is under considerably more gravitational influence from the midwife than it is from any portentious planetary alignments

Stephen quoted this statement during one of the recordings, in an aside which didn't make it to broadcast, but JumpingJack takes issue with it - do you know where the assertion comes from? If we can find something authoritative we might be able to do something with it.

11908.  Tue Dec 07, 2004 6:58 pm Reply with quote

Jupiter being a smaller gravitational influence on a newborn baby than the stomach of the attendant midwife is a line of Richard Dawkins, which I saw robustly refuted by an astrophysicist in the Daily Telegraph.

There was a thread about this on the Guardian talk site for a while and some serious mathematics flowed back and forth for a while with arguments on both sides. The difference, I seem to remember, is fairly marginal either way.

11909.  Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:11 pm Reply with quote

In any case, Coghill is no more interested in astrology than either me or Dawkins (as far as I know).

He's talking solely about electrical fields.

I understand that these mysterious forces are now pretty well established scientifically.

We don't understand what electromagnetism is, of course, but we do know THAT it is, and that it has an effect.

Coghill was writing long before mobile phones became commonplace but his argument is reminiscent of those who say that they may be dangerous.

I haven't read the book myself, so I can't say whether Coghill has proof or is merely surmising interestingly. He seems to be a Rupert Sheldrake kind of cove.

If you're interested Flash, my source was Richard Burridge who is a (well-informed) fan.

Cleverina Clogs
11930.  Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:28 am Reply with quote

Sidebar: did you know the old wives tale that says if you want a baby to sleep well at night you must take it out for a walk (well, stroll in the pram!), during the daytime come rain or shine, has been scientifically found to be true?

And it doesn't have to mean going outside, just sitting the baby near a windowy area (ie to get a bit of daylight), is just as good. It is something to do with stimulating the circadian rhythms.

11931.  Wed Dec 08, 2004 5:31 am Reply with quote

The quickest way to get a male baby to sleep, apparently, is to suck its willy.

(An old trick used by Scottish nannies, according to William Boyd in The True Confessions.)

11935.  Wed Dec 08, 2004 8:39 am Reply with quote

I imagine it works on some adults too.

11946.  Wed Dec 08, 2004 1:48 pm Reply with quote

We can work it out right here!

To work out which will provide the most attraction - Jupiter (the largest planet), or the midwife, you have to compare the value of the mass of the object divided by its distance from the baby squared: m/d^2.

You don't even need to do the calculation, in fact, because the midwife will be infinitely close to the baby (hopefully), so d will approach zero, which means that m/d^2 will be nearly infinite, however much the midwife weighs.

For Jupiter, assuming closest approach to Earth (640 million kilometres), m/d^2 works out at about 30,000, which is not quite as large as infinity.

Therefore the midwife can always be shown to have more attraction.


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