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In our restless, floodlit society, we often think of sleep as an adversary, a state depriving us of productivity and play.
No one says, “I’m going to eat on a problem.” We always sleep on it.(It typically occupies a smaller portion of subsequent cycles.) Spindles can arrive every few seconds for a while, but when these eruptions taper off, our heart rate slows. Any remaining awareness of the external environment disappears.We commence the long dive into stages 3 and 4, the deep parts of sleep.We’re not just rotely filing our thoughts—the sleeping brain actively curates which memories to keep and which to toss. Sleep reinforces our memory so powerfully—not just in stage 2, where we spend about half our sleeping time, but throughout the looping voyage of the night—that it might be best, for example, if exhausted soldiers returning from harrowing missions did not go directly to bed.To forestall , the soldiers should remain awake for six to eight hours, according to neuroscientist Gina Poe at the University of California, Los Angeles.If our circadian rhythm is pegged to the flow of daylight and dark, and if the pineal gland at the base of our brain is pumping melatonin, signaling it’s nighttime, and if an array of other systems align, our neurons swiftly fall into step.Neurons, some 86 billion of them, are the cells that form the World Wide Web of the brain, communicating with each other via electrical and chemical signals.We prefer to be in one realm or another, awake or asleep.So we turn off the lights and lie in bed and shut our eyes.Yet an imbalance between lifestyle and sun cycle has become epidemic.“It seems as if we are now living in a worldwide test of the negative consequences of sleep deprivation,” says Robert Stickgold, director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School.