The Death of Each Day’s Life

If you have an interest in science (readers may by now have guessed that I do), may I recommend that you subscribe to the daily email newsletter published by PhysOrg.com. It’s a quick read – just headlines with links – and there is always something interesting. Today’s number, though, was a tad dispiriting.

In a recent post, I commented on how difficult it is to get enough sleep in this interesting and action-packed world. My wife Nina is always telling me I’m ruining my health by getting only five or six hours a night, and I must admit that as I approach the half-century mark I do find it harder and harder to focus during the day if I’m weary. Part of my problem is that I spent so many years making records, where much of the action takes place late at night, but the fundamental fact of the matter is simply that I’m a night owl by nature, and have been since I was a little kid.

Well, along comes today’s issue of the PhysOrg newsletter, with the uplifting news that by spending insufficient time each night soaking in sore labour’s bath, I am impairing the one part of my brain that is able actually to generate new cells. Yes, that’s right – you’re way ahead of me – I’m talking about the hippocampus, of course. Apparently, exposing the brain to novel material – a process sometimes referred to as “learning” – stimulates neurogenesis in the hippocampus. But if you don’t get enough shuteye, the baby neurons die on the vine. “Our findings indicate that mild, chronic sleep restriction may have long-term deleterious effects on neural function,” say the researchers.

Admittedly the study involved rats running mazes, rather than greying bloggers writing code, but I have a gloomy feeling that they are onto something.

You know, I think that’s it for tonight. I had originally intended, once I had served up this little amuse-bouche, to prepare for you all a fascinating, in-depth look at Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff’s odd idea that consciousness emerges from orchestrated quantum waveform reduction in the microtubules of the brain, but for some reason I think I might just have to hit the sack. Tomorrow’s another day, after all.

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