Get More Sleep!

Jun 24

Get More Sleep

Image of Sleeping Girl from Wikipedia

I think the most striking item that emerged from the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial against concert promoter AEG Live last week is the extent of Michael Jackson’s sleep deprivation in the weeks leading up to his death.

It’s already well-known that Jackson had grown accustomed to frequent propofol infusions to combat his insomnia, and that he went into fatal cardiac arrest on June 25, 2009 as a result of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication.

I’m not exactly medically trained, and I also admit that I didn’t follow that closely the general news coverage of MJ’s death or that of the trial of his personal physician, Conrad Murray, so maybe this was also widely known – but I guess I just wasn’t aware that propofol, as the CNN story states “disrupts the normal sleep cycle and offers no REM sleep, yet it leaves a patient feeling refreshed as if they had experienced genuine sleep.”

But what really caught my attention in the coverage of Week 8 of the trial was the testimony from Harvard Medical School sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler.


Sleep and Memory

What was so striking was the clarity and conciseness with which Dr. Czeisler explained the relationship between REM sleep and memory, something that I’ve always felt was closely correlative (cool, I think that’s the first time I’ve been in a position to slip that word into a conversation).

From the CNN article:

An adult should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night to allow for enough sleep cycles, he said.

You “prune out” unimportant neuron connections and consolidate important ones during your “slow-eyed sleep” each night, he said. Those connections — which is the information you have acquired during the day — are consolidated by the REM sleep cycle. Your eyes actually dart back and forth rapidly during REM sleep.

“In REM, we are integrating the memories that we have stored during slow-eyed sleep, integrating memories with previous life experiences,” he said. “We are able to make sense of things that we may not have understood while awake.”

Learning and memory happen when you are asleep, he said. A laboratory mouse rehearses a path through a maze to get to a piece of cheese while asleep.

The area of a basketball player’s brain that is used to shoot a ball will have much greater slow-eyed sleep period since there is more for it to store, he said. Players shoot better after sleep.


Personal Views

From personal experience, I know that if I want to memorize something (such as a poem), a sleep cycle is required for it to be fully internalized.

The way I imagine the process is that sleep in general, and perhaps the REM cycle in particular, transfers memory from short term storage to long term storage. Kind of like uploading or downloading something, except maybe in this case, it might be better referred to as “crossloading.”

And while I believe that dreams are a source of great personal – and even transpersonal – wisdom (or, more poetically, the heart singing a deeper truth to the intellect through pictures and stories), there’s clearly an element of mental housekeeping going on as well.

It’s very common, in fact, for images and experiences from the day to be incorporated into our nightly dreams.

But that “incorporation” is never quite a literal incorporation.

Rather, it’s as if the dreaming part of us is actively looking for ways to make connections between our daily experiences and emotions and that of past experiences, knowledge, and emotions already indexed and cross-referenced in that mysterious database we call intuition or creativity.


Why Do We Resist What We Need?

Now, here’s something else from the CNN story that really stood out:

Jurors appeared quite interested as Czeisler lectured them Thursday on his sleep research, including an explanation of circadian rhythm: the internal clock in the brain that controls the timing of when we sleep and wake and the timing of the release of hormones.

Yeah, I imagine they were “quite interested.” We’re a sleep-deprived culture with too many high-tech distractions, daily stresses and pressures, and readily available access to not-quite-ideal-stress-relievers such as food and alcohol (which can inhibit REM sleep).

How many of us feel dirty or lazy or small or guilty when we’re “unproductive?”

And yet we resist the very act that arguably leads to our best chance for long term productivity – a good night’s sleep.

I don’t know whether I’m speaking to the hungover and bloodshot choir here – but it may be an important message for you as well (especially if you’ve read all the way to the bottom of the article and you find yourself, like the MJ jury “quite interested” in the topic) – Get a good night’s sleep!

I almost wrote – out of habit – “treat yourself and get a good night’s sleep.”

But that’s the point – sleep is not a “treat” – it’s a core requirement of your physical and mental health, and without which your effectiveness, creativity, relationships, and judgment suffers.

So – if this applies to you – stop injuring yourself and get more sleep!


  1. Lee /

    Do you suppose that lack of sleep also contributes to memory lapses? I have had frequest bouts of insomnia since 2001, and I rarely get the required 7 or 8 hours of sleep any night. I have noticed in these last 12 years that I have more problems remembering things: what I wanted to get at the grocery store, what I needed when went from one room to another, what is the name of that author, movie star, politician, what is the word I am trying to say? I also find myself losing track of what I wanted to express in a conversation, sometimes right in the middle of a sentence. In other words, I lose my train of thought. Of course, this may just be a result of aging, but I wonder if lack of sleep may also be playing a part.

    • Brad /

      I would be surprised if it WASN’T a factor. Whether it’s the only factor, who’s to say?

      How long have you actually had the insomnia issues? Were they always there, or did they emerge as a result of physical issues?

      I’ve had to resort to consciously paying attention to where I park the car these days, or else there’s a good chance I’ll end up wandering the asphalt later on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge