Do we truly understand sleep?

The neurologist and clinical lead for the Sleep Disorders Centre at Guy's Hospital, Guy Leschziner, has recently published a book, The Nocturnal Brain: Tales of Nightmares and Neuroscience, documenting the experiences of some of his patients who are most impacted by sleep issues.

Leschziner provided a comprehensive overview of sleep and explained how the scientific understanding of sleep has altered with time.

He said, “Historically, this has been a major mystery.  We think that sleep is a global brain state, that either you’re asleep or you’re awake. We think, when you’re asleep, your entire brain is asleep. Actually, what we now have begun to learn is that sleep is not a global brain state, that different parts of the brain can be awake or asleep at different times.”

Leschnizer explained how numerous variables impact sleep.  

He said, “Sleep is determined by a number of factors. It’s obviously determined by your psychological state, if you’re depressed, that might affect your sleep. But, it’s also a function of your environment.”

“One of the things that I’m particularly interested in is the underlying biological problems that give rise to sleep disturbances and sleep disorders. Many conditions are fundamentally explained by areas of damage in the nervous system.”

Picture by Sam Hardwick.

If you are interested in science, also see Nathan Filer talking about finding and losing Schizophrenia at 8.30pm, 25 May. If you like watching Hay Festival events digitally, please sign up to the Hay Player for more from the world’s greatest thinkers.