Sent: 23-03-2010 09:58:08
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Brain Rules 5
This continues my series on the 12 Brain Rules produced by Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant: I have so far outlined the first 6 rules, more are outlined here:
7. "Sleep" - Snooze or Lose
The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake. The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you're asleep, perhaps replaying what you learned that day. People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.
The human body increasingly malfunctions when deprived of sleep. If you are sleepless for a few days, in addition to severe fatigue, you will experience stomach upsets, crankiness, poor memory recall, disorientation, and eventually paranoia and hallucinations. For about 80% of the time you spend asleep, your brain doesn't really rest. Brain scans show enormous electrical activity among the neurons, even more than when you are awake. The body has a delicate control process, called the circadian cycle, which keeps you alternating between wakefulness and sleep periods. An individual's preferred sleep timeframe varies genetically. Early birds (of which I am one) make up about 10% of the population; another 20% of people are late nighters. The rest fall somewhere in between.
Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity. Your brain slows in the afternoon, but a nap can work wonders (explains why the Spanish and Italians love the 'siesta'). Napping for 45 minutes will turbo-charge your brain for six hours. Conversely, students who skip even an hour of sleep each night face a dramatic drop in academic performance. Sleep deprivation impairs "attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge."
- When we're asleep, the brain is not resting at all. It is almost unbelievably active! It's possible that the reason we need to sleep is so that we can learn.
- Sleep must be important because we spend 1/3 of our lives doing it! Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
- We still don't know how much we need! It changes with age, gender, pregnancy, puberty, and so much more.
- Napping is normal. Ever feel tired at 3PM? That's because your brain really wants to take a nap.
- Taking a nap at 3PM might make you more productive. In one study, a 26-minute nap improved NASA pilots' performance by 34 percent. Consequently it is probably no the best idea to schedule important meetings at 3pm (easier said than done!)
8. "Stress" - Chronic Tension Makes It Harder to Learn
A little bit of stress heightens your ability to learn, but ongoing, chronic stress damages brain
function. Chronic stress can cause a phenomenon called "learned helplessness," in which
people simply give up hope and no longer engage their brains or try to solve problems.
Your body's defense system, the release of adrenaline and cortisol, is built for an immediate response to a serious but passing danger. Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses.
Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember. Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem, you are helpless.
During times of stress, people experience a "fight or flight response." The resulting blood pressure rise and racing pulse are detrimental over the long term, raising the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Chronic stress worsens your ability to work with numbers and language. When you are seriously stressed, you don't learn as well and have difficulty concentrating, remembering and solving problems.
- Your brain is built to deal with stress that lasts about 30 seconds. The brain is not designed for long term stress when you feel like you have no control.
- Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function. It can hurt your motor skills. When you are stressed out over a long period of time it disrupts your immune response. You get sicker more often. It disrupts your ability to sleep. You get depressed a lot.
- The emotional stability of the home is the single greatest predictor of academic success.
- You have one brain. The same brain you have at home is the same brain you have at work. The stress you are experiencing at home will affect your performance at work, and vice versa.
More next time
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