Why waste one third of our precious lives lying in bed unconscious? Via Aeon Magazine, Jessa Gamble on how technological progress is being made which will eventually render biological sleep obsolete, enabling (and forcing?) all of us to go without it:
A thirst for life leads many to pine for a drastic reduction, if not elimination, of the human need for sleep. It’s the Holy Grail of sleep researchers, and they might be closing in.
DARPA – the research arm of the US military – leads the way in squeezing a full night’s sleep into fewer hours, by forcing sleep the moment head meets pillow, and by concentrating that sleep into only the most restorative stages.
Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM), one of DARPA’s research partners, has developed a mask called the Somneo Sleep Trainer that exploits one- or two-hour windows for strategic naps in mobile sleeping environments. Screening out ambient noise and visual distractions, the mask carries a heating element around the eyes, based on the finding that facial warming helps send people to sleep. It also carries a blue light that gradually brightens as your set alarm time approaches, suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin for a less groggy awakening.
Using a slightly different technique — transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which directly causes neurons to fire — neuroscientists at Duke University have been able to induce slow-wave oscillations, the once-per-second ripples of brain activity that we see in deep sleep. TMS devices might be able to launch us straight into deep sleep at the flip of a switch. Full control of our sleep cycles could maximise time spent in slow-wave sleep and REM, ensuring full physical and mental benefits while cutting sleep time in half.
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?