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The end of sleep? Emerging technologies that could radically reduce our need to sleep

April 11, 2013

Work, friendships, exercise, parenting, eating, reading — there just aren’t enough hours in the day. To live fully, many of us carve those extra hours out of our sleep time. Then we pay for it the next day. A thirst for life leads many to pine for a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of the human need for sleep. Little wonder: if there were a widespread disease that similarly deprived people of a third of their conscious lives, the search for a cure would be lavishly funded. It’s the Holy Grail of sleep researchers, and they might be closing in.

As with most human behaviours, it’s hard to tease out our biological need for sleep from the cultural practices that interpret it. The practice of sleeping for eight hours on a soft, raised platform, alone or in pairs, is actually atypical for humans. Many traditional societies sleep more sporadically, and social activity carries on throughout the night. Group members get up when something interesting is going on, and sometimes they fall asleep in the middle of a conversation as a polite way of exiting an argument. Sleeping is universal, but there is glorious diversity in the ways we accomplish it.

Different species also seem to vary widely in their sleeping behaviours. Herbivores sleep far less than carnivores — four hours for an elephant, compared with almost 20 hours for a lion — presumably because it takes them longer to feed themselves, and vigilance is selected for. As omnivores, humans fall between the two sleep orientations. Circadian rhythms, the body’s master clock, allow us to anticipate daily environmental cycles and arrange our organ’s functions along a timeline so that they do not interfere with one another.

Excerpt from an article written by Jessa Gamble at Aeon. Continue HERE

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