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Sleep to Forget

August 17, 2019

When I was young, I knew a girl whose bed sat between two wardrobes connected by cupboards overhead. She’d cut out letters from the headlines of newspapers and magazines, spelled out 'sleep to forget’, and stuck these scraps up onto the underside of the cupboards above her resting head.

 

She was no scientist but it turns out that sleep can actually help you to forget.

 

Maybe it seems a bit angsty and adolescent to hope for sleep to act as an escape from the tragedy of growing up (though it definitely is...) – but the process of forgetting must never be underestimated.

 

During sleep, essentially, your neurons relax with you. The day’s challenges keep you on your toes from remembering to send an email to choosing your food in Morrison’s; tension is a by-product of these choices and your muscles aren’t the only things that ache. Your neuroplasticity – your neurons’ ability to create new neural pathways and reinforce existing ones – improves drastically over the sustained course of high quality sleep.

 

So why is that important?

A study in Paris has proved that different stages of sleep allow us to learn and unlearn. While subjecting participants to certain sounds, the researchers measured spikes in brain activity on electroencephalograms (EEGs); this allowed them to tailor the deliverance of the sounds during certain stages of sleep. Upon waking, they tested the participants’ recall of the sounds and found that hearing the sounds during different stages of sleep had an effect on the quality of their recall.

 

When exposed to the sounds during REM sleep and light NREM-sleep, the test subjects were then better able to recognise the sounds when they'd woken up. Were they to have experienced the sound during deep NREM-sleep, however, they performed far worse in their recall of the stimulus. The significance of these findings is essentially that the brain appears to be receptive – ready to strengthen neural pathways – and obtuse – unwilling to absorb new information – while asleep.

 

Hypotheses surrounding sleep have tended to favour one or the other – receptiveness or obtuseness – suggesting that sleep is either a time when memory is consolidated and organised, or it’s a time for the brain to clear out all those unwanted fragments of information that would simply clog it up. I don’t know about you but I kind of prefer the idea of the second one; I see, hear and read so much rubbish during my day that I’d feel calmed knowing that my brain was clearing my cache so to speak.

Forgetting’s usually an art; think of all those times you conveniently forgot to do something. Selective amnesia is a firm favourite of the guilty individual. It’s important though and I think it’s interesting to recognise that forgetting’s a science as well. Forgetting the wrong way of doing menial tasks, forgetting your emotional and humiliating mistakes, and forgetting the futility of existence are all vital to our ability to persevere through our circumstance. Your sleep plays a huge role in that process and Charlotte Dunn makes pyjamas that should be playing a huge role in your sleep.

That girl that wanted to forget was going about it in the most healthy and positive way. If you’ve slipped on a banana skin in front of your crush and landed with a milkshake on your face, go and have a snooze.

 

Hugs,

 

Tyler

 

a philosophical influence

 

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