Science Tuesday: The science of sleep

By Sanah Faroke, Staff Writer
@sanahfaroke

If only we could learn in our sleep.../  PHOTO VIA Flickr user Mrehan

If only we could learn in our sleep…/ PHOTO VIA Flickr user Mrehan

Behold! We have entered the ‘week of death,’ i.e. the week before finals week. We’ve entered the dome of late night strategy sessions, unhealthy food choices, and nocturnal raccoon eyes covered over with concealer. Wait, is that just me?

Well, Katniss and I might be BFFs because I feel like I’ve been chosen to participate in the ‘Hunger Games.’ It’s a battle to the death, but really, we’re all just creating this battle with our internal biological clock.

I’ve always been a night owl. I think better and produce higher-quality work at night. However, I’m a miserable troll in the morning when I have to wake up at 8 a.m. for class. I’m such a rebel, defying this clock, but by disrupting these neurons that tell me what to do and when to do it, it puts everything else out of wack.

The neurons in the brain are no bigger than the size of a mustard seed, according to The Atlantic. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) tells me when I should have breakfast or go to sleep, as well as determining functions like social and sexual behaviors. It’s what makes me a night owl and what makes normal people, well, normal.

According to Seth Blackshaw, an associate professor of neuroscience at John Hopkins University, these characteristics can be genetic, and in a sense, predetermined. In a new study conducted by Blackshaw, SCN deteriorates as you age.

When I was a kid, I hated naps. I’d tell my mom that “day is for play and night is for sleep.” Clearly as a college student, that has changed drastically, but one thing is the same: I fight sleep. Back then, I wouldn’t take naps, and now, I drink coffee instead of giving in. Nevertheless, according to Blackshaw, being awake when our body is obviously tired is bad for you.

For those who pull all-nighters — you deserve a medal. I don’t know how you guys do it, but you do. You better save that medal though because some studies show that you have a higher chance of getting cancer or having a heart attack. So is the medal and a crappy paper worth your health? Probably not, but you’re setting yourself up for it if you stray from the SCN master clock.

In Blackshaw’s study, researchers removed a key gene in mice that helps the SCN communicate with other cells, because SCN communicates with cells in the entire body. He found that instead of the mice operating as if their Monday was a normal 24-hour schedule, they worked as if they have two or three body clocks controlling them at the same time (which kind of feels like my average Monday anyway).

Blackshaw concluded that the clock was still running, but it wasn’t synchronized. It’s why some people are like the living dead during the day, but at night are little miss peppy. I actually live in constant pep, but that’s just because I drink too much coffee, not because I sleep enough. I should probably attempt to do better. I’ll pencil it in … after graduation.

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