06 March 2015

Aeon Magazine: “Life without sleep”

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.

Should technologies such as tDCS prove safe and become widely available, they would represent an alternate route to human longevity, extending our conscious lifespan by as much as 50 per cent. Many of us cherish the time we spend in bed, but we don’t consciously experience most of our sleeping hours — if they were reduced without extra fatigue, we might scarcely notice a difference except for all those open, new hours in our night time existence. Lifespan statistics often adjust for time spent disabled by illness, but they rarely account for the ultimate debilitation: lack of consciousness. Now a life lived at 150 per cent might be within our grasp. Are we brave enough to choose it?

Jessa Gamble
Sleep stages

Interesting way of thinking about this: eliminating sleep would instantly and drastically increase our (perceived) lifespan! It would also cause massive changes in society, for example enabling people to sync their schedules across time-zones – maybe eliminating these altogether, along with Daylight Savings Time. I’m not sure scientists understand the mechanisms of the brain and mind enough to achieve this, but experimenting with sleep patterns might reveal some unexpected insight into human consciousness. The bigger question to ask, I think, is not ‘why do we sleep?’, but rather ‘how does our sense-of-self return after seemingly disappearing every night?

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