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Sleeping is a period of relaxation to the majority of people. It?s a job to scientists who?re engaged in the somnology. The somnologists managed to find out that a human brain remains as active while we?re asleep as it does while stay awake. They also learned that an extra half an hour of sleep sometimes makes it very hard for us to wake up.
Doctor of Biology Vladimir Kovalzon, senior fellow with the Severtsev Institute of Environmental and Evolutionary Studies talks to Natalia Konygina, an Izvestia correspondent, about the issues relating to sleep in humans.

Q: Mr. Kovalzon, how could you interpret sleep from a scientific point of view?

A: For 2,000 years lots of scientists including most famous ones, like Freud and Pavlov, were repeating a well-known assertion by Aristotle which defined sleep as a state between life and death with brain turned off. In the Orient, however, there were quite different opinions on the nature of sleep Some philosophers out there believed that there were two types of sleep. One is a common sleep when the brain activity is slowed down. The other is an active sleep involving dreaming. Today?s scientists arrived at the same conclusions. Back in the 19th century, Maria Manasseina from Russia was the first to understand that the brain didn?t just turn off when man falls asleep. There?re three states of the human soul and body: being awake, a slow sleep and a rapid or paradoxical sleep. Being awake is the most complex state of all. Most complex mechanisms work to make it happen. A person will fall into a coma should any of the mechanisms falter. By watching the patient?s mechanisms of dream the doctors can tell if such a person has good or bad chances of surviving a coma. A prognosis is normally good if he or she is capable of dreaming. It means that the consciousness still functions, the patient is alive. On the contrary, a lack of dreaming means the death of a cerebral cortex. In other words, the patient is a dead man hooked up to a respirator.

Q: What is a rapid sleep and a slow one?

A slow sleep is a state that is opposite to a state of being awake. It doesn?t involve dreaming. Dreaming is a sign of an intensive brain activity. The brain remains as active during a rapid sleep as it does during the time of the most active wakefulness. We?re sailing in an ocean of emotions. On the outside, a patient?s heartbeat goes faster, his breathing becomes broken, and blood rushes to his face. Our condition is subject to change every 90 minutes as we sleep. It?s a cycle of our sleep. It includes the periods of both slow and rapid sleep. A nighttime sleep is made of 80 percent of a slow sleep and 20 percent of a rapid one. If nothing disturbed a person as he was sleeping through a sleep cycle, he?s going to feel fine and easy. On the contrary, he?s sure to suffer if he?s rudely awaken by his alarm clock in the middle of it. The best time of arising is on completion of a cycle.

Q: Does it mean that one can figure out one?s perfect wake-up time?

The answer is no, regrettably. The cycle lasts a wee bit longer than 90 minutes, some 100 to 103 minutes. A number of personal differences and some differences having to do with age should be taken into account too. Your alarm clock would wake you up at 06:10 instead of 07:00 and still you?d be feeling just fine because you?d wake up right on time when a cycle had been completed if that alarm clock of yours could be somehow tuned to your biological clock. But such wonder clocks are yet to come.

Q: Do we need to sleep in the daytime?

I should say so. There?re two periods of a daytime sleep for man in a natural environment. One?s programmed around the noon and the other one falls on 4 PM. Just three hours and a half. If a person sleeps in the daytime, he will require less amount of time for a night sleep. He could wake up in between the cycles like animals do. They don?t sleep in a consolidated manner, cats and dogs wake up at night, take a walk, then go back to sleep. Such kind of behavior is more natural and such variety of sleep does more good to man. Unfortunately, the rhythm of our life is set by the world we live in. We have to stay awake for 16 hours in a row. Many diseases may be caused by our hectic lifestyles. Depression, for example, is the most common mental disorder among the residents of big cities. Particular types of depression make it hard for those who have them to wake up in the morning. The patients like that feel better after dark. But they feel bad again if they have some sleep. Snoring can be a dangerous thing. It?s particularly dangerous during a rapid sleep period when breathing gets broken. A person can choke due to snoring. The periods of a paradoxical sleep of the second half of the night have become increasingly longer these days due to a wrong rhythm of life. The chances for something bad to happen are growing a lot higher if a broken breathing lasts for 40 minutes.

Q: Do people always see dreams in a rapid sleep period? Why do they forget them?

Memorizing one?s dreams doesn?t do any good. Dreams aren?t made for remembering. You can?t remember lots of good things happening to you in our dream, can you? In most cases you can only recall something bad. If a person has lots of unpleasant things and negative emotions going through his head while he stays awake, he?s likely to ?shove? them as deep as he can and not concentrate on them. But they will pop up in his sleep. Therefore he will remember them after waking up. And they will keep putting pressures on him.

Q: According to one theory, the majority of man-made accidents happen at a particular time of the day thought to be the hardest hour for shrugging off the grip of sleep...

The Americans began looking into the problem back in the 1980s. They learned that accidents tend to happen at the peak of a drowse. 1 AM is the most critical time in terms of accident rate. The Chernobyl disaster and one of the worst maritime accidents involving the loss of a few hundred passengers of the ?Admiral Nakhimov? took place about that hour. The second critical period falls on five o?clock in the morning. Aside from the above, there?re two more dangerous periods in the daytime, one is around noon and the other one refers to 4 PM, both are the peaks of a daytime sleep. Though a person will have only one peak of a drowse if he gets up late.

Q: Can the scientists help those professionals who must stay fully concentrated while performing their duties during those accident-sensitive hours?

My colleagues designed a special device for the engine drivers. Some 200 locomotives have been equipped with it by far. It?s attached to the palm of a driver?s hand for monitoring data by which it?s capable of sensing the onset of sleep. Once it detects the nearing sleep, it sets off an alarm to wake up the driver. If he fails to react after a third alarm signal, the device activates the brakes and the train grinds to a halt. The Russian Ministry Of Railroads bureaucrats had their doubts about its effectiveness for a long time for it never switched on the brakes. Then a train?s entire crew of drivers fell asleep and their locomotive kept rolling past the three semaphores shining red. It happed after the New Year holidays. The crewmembers woke up only after the train stopped because the device had activated the emergency brakes. Lucky they were for it happened just a two kilometers away from a train rolling by the same tracks. It was the day of triumph for the designers of the device. All locomotives are going to be equipped with it. The researchers are working on a similar device to be used by the long-range freight truckers.

Q: Some people are the ?larks? and others are the ?owls?. Why does it happen?

Both the larks and owls are basically the products of civilization. The gene that is reportedly pertinent to the ?owls? has been found in a fruit fly. We have it too yet it has nothing to do with sleep or wakefulness. The reporters who wrote the story had their imagination running wild too much, so to speak. The primitive people could sleep whenever they felt like sleeping so there were neither ?owls? nor ?larks? back then. A person?s proclivity to turn into a ?lark? or an ?owl? isn?t inherited, it?s rather shaped by a certain rhythm of life he?s tuned in directly or indirectly by his parents in his childhood. The ?pigeons? are still the most common type of sleepers, they can arise early or late. More than a half of all people belong to this type. About 30 percent of the human race are the pronounced ?owls?, the remaining 20 percent are the ?larks.?


© Рудаков В.Г. - NEKTO 2009г.

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