by Anders Sandberg
To reduce or at least control the need for sleep is a very
popular subject among transhumanists. Here are some ideas I
have found, that may be useful for this end.
This page is mainly based on two interviews with the sleep-researcher
Torbjörn Åkerstedt at IPM, in Fri Teknik December 1995
and Dagens Nyheter November 3 1995.
Sleep can be more or less efficient. If you sleep for a long time
there is a risk that the sleep will be inefficient, and you just
waste your time (although it is of course pleasant and dreams
can often be inspiring). There is also some evidence that imply
that people who sleep longer more often develop depressions, that
can be ameliorated or cured by reducing the length of sleep and
the introduction of more light during waking hours. In general
it is good to be surrounded by light during waking hours (preferably
bright sunlight), and darkness when one plans to sleep to adjust
the biological clocks correctly (the superchiasmatic nucleus in
hypothalamus, which regulates our rhythms, is linked to the optic
nerve and reacts to light/darkness).
It is currently a bit unclear how much sleep is needed per night,
but four hours seems to be the absolute minimum for normal function.
Normal sleeping time is 6 hours for adults, while the body will
(if allowed) shift to a 8.5 hour sleep every night. There are no
doubt individual differences, and the length of sleep is also
dependent on our habits.
The lightbulb has changed our sleeping habits to a large extent; earlier
the sunset marked the beginning of the night and sunrise the beginning of
the day, but today most people (at least in the cities) remain awake
a long way into the night. According to the old biological rhythms
we should awaken at 8 in the morning, not at 6 as most people do.
At this early time the melatonin concentration is at its greatest, and
it makes us tired and sleepy.
It is worth noting that there exists two kinds of sleep, mental sleep and
physical sleep. The body needs rest to replenish energy resources and
some forms of repair, while the brain appears to do "garbage collection"
during sleep (although this is debated). These two forms of sleep do not
have to coincide, although they usually do. It should be possible to
relax and rest the body while remaining mentally active, for example in
some forms of meditation or just lying in bed reading (in the latter case some ergonomic design is needed to avoid tensing too many muscles).
Beside the major 24-hour rhythm there are other short-periodic rhythms in
our activity levels. Most people experience a dip in activity after midday,
corresponding to the siesta in warmer countries (a quite natural adaption to
the noon heat). A related periodic activity change seems to have a period of aix hours; after waking up at six the mind and body feel tired to around nine,
when they start to become efficient and clearly awake. This active state lasts
for around three hours until replaced by the early afternoon dip, which can
last to until three, when another activity period begins. These times are of course different for different persons, but by acting on your biological rhythms you can plan your day for maximum efficiency.
A System For Optimal Sleeping
As described in the article in Fri Teknik:
This will give you approximatively 5 1/2 hours of sleep per day, distributed more evenly than the usual sleeping pattern. The timing should of course to be
adjusted for your own daily rhythm. To make your sleep efficient is a
matter of training, and it is not possible to achieve it through pure
willpower (which will just undermine your efforts, since having
to go to sleep is one of the best ways of avoiding it).
- Go to bed at 3.30 in the morning.
- Wake up at 8.00
- Take two half-hour naps, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.
- Sleeping habits should remain unchanged from day to day, otherwise
it will become hard to fall asleep or wake up at the correct time. If
you go to bed and rise the same time all days (including in the weekends, when many people
sleep extra long) your biological clock will adjust to it, making it
easier to pass from one state to another on cue.
- The last cup of coffee, cola or tea should be drunk in the early afternoon.
- Take a walk each day in daylight to strengthen your biological rhythm.
- When going to bed, stop worrying and planning. After all, you cannot
solve the problems at hand (consciously) while sleeping, and afterwards
you will be rested and much more able to handle them effectively.
- Sleep in a dark, cool and calm place. When you awake, let in as much
light as possible (I use to stand at a window soaking in the sunlight, weather permitting). Before going to bed it is a good idea to gradually lower the
light-levels around you (note that only lightbulbs are needed for influencing
the biological clock, strong fluoroscent light or sunlight are useful but not necessary).
- Sport and exercise are best done in the afternoon, not in the evening (since this causes the metabolic rate to increase so that you will not be able to sleep).
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