Sunday, August 26, 2012

What Happens While You Sleep and How It Affects Your Every Waking Moment

"We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive."
The Ancient Greeks believed that one fell asleep when the brain filled with blood and awakened once it drained back out. Nineteenth-century philosophers contended that sleep happened when the brain was emptied of ambitions and stimulating thoughts. "If sleep doesn't serve an absolutely vital function, it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made," biologist Allan Rechtschaffen once remarked. Even today, sleep remains one of the most poorly understood human biological functions, despite some recent strides in understanding the "social jetlag" of our internal clocks and the relationship between dreaming and depression. In Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep (public library), journalist David K. Randall – who stumbled upon the idea after crashing violently into a wall while sleepwalking – explores "the largest overlooked part of your life and how it affects you even if you don't have a sleep problem." From gender differences to how come some people snore and others don't to why we dream, he dives deep into this mysterious third of human existence to illuminate what happens when night falls and how it impacts every aspect of our days.
Most of us will spend a full third of our lives asleep, and yet we don't have the faintest idea of what it does for our bodies and our brains. Research labs offer surprisingly few answers. Sleep is one of the dirty little secrets of science. My neurologist wasn't kidding when he said there was a lot that we don't know about sleep, starting with the most obvious question of all – why we, and every other animal, need to sleep in the first place.
But before we get too anthropocentrically arrogant in our assumptions, it turns out the quantitative requirement of sleep isn't correlated with how high up the evolutionary chain an organism is:
Lions and gerbils sleep about thirteen hours a day. Tigers and squirrels nod off for about fifteen hours. At the other end of the spectrum, elephants typically sleep three and a half hours at a time, which seems lavish compared to the hour and a half of shut-eye that the average giraffe gets each night … Humans need roughly one hour of sleep for every two hours they are awake, and the body innately knows when this ratio becomes out of whack. Each hour of missed sleep one night will result in deeper sleep the next, until the body's sleep debt is wiped clean.
What, then, happens as we doze off, exactly? Like all science, our understanding of sleep seems to be a constant "revision in progress":
Despite taking up so much of life, sleep is one of the youngest fields of science. Until the middle of the twentieth century, scientists thought that sleep was an unchanging condition during which time the brain was quiet. The discovery of rapid eye movements in the 1950s upended that. Researchers then realized that sleep is made up of five distinct stages that the body cycles through over roughly ninety-minute periods. The first is so light that if you wake up from it, you might not realize that you have been sleeping. The second is marked by the appearance of sleep-specific brain waves that last only a few seconds at a time. If you reach this point in the cycle, you will know you have been sleeping when you wake up. This stage marks the last drop before your brain takes a long ride away from consciousness. Stages three and four are considered deep sleep. In three, the brain sends out long, rhythmic bursts called delta waves. Stave four is known as slow-wave sleep for the speed of its accompanying brain waves. The deepest form of sleep, this is the farthest that your brain travels from conscious thought. If you are woken up while in stage four, you will be disoriented, unable to answer basic questions, and want nothing more than to go back to sleep, a condition that researchers call sleep drunkenness. The final stage is REM sleep, so named because of the rapid movements of your eyes dancing against your eyelids. In this stage of sleep, the brain is as active as it is when it is awake. This is when most dreams occur.
(Recall the role of REM sleep in regulating negative emotions.)
Randall's most urgent point, however, echoes what we've already heard from German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg, who studies internal time – in our blind lust for the "luxuries" of modern life, with all its 24-hour news cycles, artificial lighting on demand, and expectations of round-the-clock telecommunications availability, we've thrown ourselves into a kind of circadian schizophrenia:
We are living in an age when sleep is more comfortable than ever and yet more elusive. Even the worst dorm-room mattress in America is luxurious compared to sleeping arrangements that were common not long ago. During the Victorian era, for instance, laborers living in workhouses slept sitting on benches, with their arms dangling over a taut rope in front of them. They paid for this privilege, implying that it was better than the alternatives. Families up to the time of the Industrial Revolution engaged in the nightly ritual of checking for rats and mites burrowing in the one shared bedroom. Modernity brought about a drastic improvement in living standards, but with it came electric lights, television, and other kinds of entertainment that have thrown our sleep patterns into chaos.
Work has morphed into a twenty-four-hour fact of life, bringing its own set of standards and expectations when it comes to sleep … Sleep is ingrained in our cultural ethos as something that can be put off, dosed with coffee, or ignored. And yet maintaining a healthy sleep schedule is now thought of as one of the best forms of preventative medicine.
Reflecting on his findings, Randall marvels:
As I spent more time investigating the science of sleep, I began to understand that these strange hours of the night underpin nearly every moment of our lives.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The frozen water bottle.. A MUST WATCH

Folks, this is really interesting. Don't know why this you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What, Me Worry? Algae: A key player in mass extinctions?

CLEMSON, S.C. - U.S. scientists say although supervolcanoes and meteors are usually blamed for mass extinctions, algae may be behind the world's great species annihilations.
Clemson University research James Castle and Professor John Robers said anywhere there is water, there can be toxic algae in small concentrations. But a sudden warming in the water or an injection of dust or sediment from land can trigger a bloom that kills thousands of fish, poisons shellfish or even humans.
The researchers say they believe the same thing happened during the five largest mass extinctions in Earth's history. Each time a large die off occurred, they found a spike in the number of fossil algae mats called stromatolites strewn around the planet.
Castle said nutrient-rich fallout from a volcano eruption or meteor impact lands in the water and becomes food for algae. The algae explode in population, releasing chemicals that can act as anything from skin irritants to potent neurotoxins, he said. Plants on land then can pick up the compounds in their roots, and pass them on to herbivorous animals.
Castle and Rodgers said if their theory is correct, it answers a lot of questions about how species became extinct in the ancient world. It also raises concerns for how today's algae might damage the ecosystem in a warmer world.
The research was presented this week in Portland, Ore., during the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How long do dead bodies remain intact in the ocean?

On Tuesday, Brazilian authorities recovered 16 bodies from the Air France crash in the Atlantic Ocean, bringing the total to 24.

The Airbus 330 jet took off from Rio de Janeiro on its way to Paris on May 31 when it disappeared during intense thunderstorms. Investigators are currently considering the possibility that the plane's airspeed sensors were iced over. Meanwhile the Brazilian navy is conducting an all-out search for the bodies.

Finding survivors lost at sea is a race against time because of the possibility of starvation or hypothermia. But none of the 228 people on board Flight 447 were expected to have survived the plane's impact.

So how long can a body remain intact at sea, to be recovered?

The Australian Museum has an informative Web site,, on how human remains change after death. On land, bacteria and other microbes in the body will rapidly multiply and break down the soft tissue. Shortly after death, flies and other insects consume the soft tissue. Vultures, dogs or other large mammals may also take pieces of the decomposing flesh, sometimes reducing the corpse into a skeleton in under two weeks.

On the open ocean, however, flies and other insects are largely absent. And if the body is floating in water less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) for about three weeks, the tissues turn into a soapy fatty acid known as "grave wax" that halts bacterial growth. The skin, however, will still blister and turn greenish black. Finally, crabs and small fish may feed on the soft parts of the face like the eyes and lips, according to the book Forensic Taphonomy: The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains, by William D. Haglund and Marcella H. Sorg.

A 2002 study in the journal Legal Medicine examined nine bodies that had drifted hundreds of kilometers in cold waters off the coast of Portugal and Spain. Bodies recovered in the first week were in good condition, but the beginning signs of decomposition were present on a body recovered after eight days. The two bodies recovered after 20 days were highly decomposed and could only be identified through DNA analysis or dental records. As for warmer water, A 2008 study on two human bodies recovered following aircraft accidents found one body off of Sicily to be partially skeletonized after 34 days and a second body off of Namibia to be completely skeletonized after three months.*

Of course, sharks are an important scavenger in warm waters, like those off of Brazil, and can quickly reduce a body to shreds. "Sharks, like any predator, are opportunistic feeders, and they'll take advantage of a resource that's given to them," says George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville and the curator of the International Shark Attack File.

Low-frequency noises caused by a ship sinking or a plane crashing travel great distances underwater and can attract the animals. However, he says, "The idea that the…[seas]…are carpeted with sharks…is a misconception."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Daniel Goleman Ecological Intelligence.

Ecological Intelligence

The bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership now brings us Ecological Intelligence.
Dara O'Rourke and Gregory A. Norris join Daniel Goleman to talk about
—revealing the hidden environmental consequences of what we make and buy, and how with that knowledge we can drive the essential changes we all must make to save our planet and ourselves.

We buy herbal shampoos that contain industrial chemicals that can threaten our health or contaminate the environment. We dive down to see coral reefs, not realizing that an ingredient in our sunscreen feeds a virus that kills the reef. We wear organic cotton t-shirts, but dont know that its dyes may put factory workers at risk for leukemia. In Ecological Intelligence, Daniel Goleman reveals why so many of the products that are labeled green are a mirage, and illuminates our wild inconsistencies in response to the ecological crisis.

Drawing on cutting-edge research, Goleman explains why we as shoppers are in the dark over the hidden impacts of the goods and services we make and consume, victims of a blackout of information about the detrimental effects of producing, shipping, packaging, distributing, and discarding the goods we buy.
This event took place on May 14, 2009