Can the sleeping brain create unique people that the waking brain has never seen before?

Can the sleeping brain create unique people that the waking brain has never seen before?

Reader Ella asks: “I read a theory that while dreaming, the brain cannot invent new people out of nowhere. Instead, the brain shows people we've seen while awake, or combines a mix of previously-seen physical features to create a "new" person. How would you prove/disprove this theory? Why does the brain do this?”

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Sleeping with the Cavefishes

Sleeping with the Cavefishes

As a graduate student, I would give my right arm to be a fully functioning human being with little to no sleep. Alas, even Aristotle in 350 BCE observed a seemingly simple truth -- all animals sleep. Much to the frustration of sleep scientists, we still do not fully understand why we need sleep or why there is so much variation between species in sleep behavior. We are, however, beginning to gain an understanding of what may be regulating sleep and how it may have evolved over time, in some cases even making use of unusual model organisms such as Astyanax mexicanus, or the Mexican cavefish.

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Why do humans hallucinate on little sleep?

Why do humans hallucinate on little sleep?

What do psychosis, psychedelics and sleep deprivation have in common? They make you really bad at perceiving visual illusions…and really good at hallucinating.

Driven by bewilderment, a hunch, and a sense of purpose, I set out to determine how sleep deprivation causes visual hallucinations. My quest turned up a key paper (written entirely in German), a new hypothesis and a vow to get more sleep. Below is an exposition of my journey, beginning about a decade ago.

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Brains that go bump in the night

Brains that go bump in the night

“The witching hour… was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep, deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”
-Roald Dahl, The BFG

In folklore and literature, the sleeping hours represent a state of heightened vulnerability, a time when the “ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties” roam free and wreak havoc. Today, neuroscientists are unraveling the biological underpinnings of nightmares, night terrors, and other sleep disturbances. 

Recently, I had the chance to sit down to discuss these nighttime phenomena with biologist H. Craig Heller, PhD, a member of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute and an expert in the neurobiology of sleep. 

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To Sleep, Perchance to Feed the Cat

To Sleep, Perchance to Feed the Cat

We all have an anecdote or two about real-life sensations—the smell of cooking food, the noise of thunderstorms, or the pressure of a full bladder—that made appearances in our dreams. It’s not that rare for external stimuli, when they happen to occur during dream-producing REM sleep, to be incorporated into dream content. Becca Krock discusses one such case, involving dreams, drums, and an impatient cat.

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Brains & Bourbon Ep13 Sleep

This week on Brains & Bourbon, we share a Manhattan with H. Craig Heller who talk us through the "how" and "why" of sleep and explains what hibernating astronauts have in common with ground squirrels. Plus much more!

Dr. Heller is a professor of biology and is the co-director of the Stanford Center for Down Syndrome Research.

Resolve

Resolve

It’s that time of year again, folks. As the Labrador puppy of hope runs headlong toward the closed glass door of inevitability, millions of otherwise rational adults indulge in a practice commonly referred to as “making new year’s resolutions”. Despite initial confidence, most participants will fail to maintain their resolutions. Following on from David’s piece on new year’s day, I’d like to take this opportunity to provide much-needed moral support (“outside interference”?) to those who are looking to beat the odds and stick to their resolutions. And what better way to provide incentive than by giving examples of how three common new year’s resolutions can positively affect your brain and your immune system.

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Squirrel Pops & Shy Spines

Squirrel Pops & Shy Spines

Back when I was a first year, I remember Craig Heller telling a story about how squirrels lose a huge proportion of their synapses during winter hibernation, which they then somehow grow back when they awaken. I've used this as cocktail party conversation since then, but only recently have I gone back and actually checked out the details about this phenomenon. It turns out it's pretty incredible.

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