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Sleep, Tetris, Memory and the Brain

As part of our ongo­ing Author Speaks Series, we are hon­ored to present today this excel­lent arti­cle by Dr. Shan­non Mof­fett, based on her illu­mi­nat­ing and engag­ing book. Enjoy!

(and please go to sleep soon if you are read­ing this late Mon­day night).
————

Two years ago I fin­ished a book on the mind/brain, called The Three Pound Enig­ma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its Mys­ter­iesShannon Moffett-Three Pound Enigma . Each chap­ter pro­files a leader in a dif­fer­ent aspect of mind/brain research, from neu­ro­surgery to zen Bud­dhism, from cog­ni­tive neu­ro­science to phi­los­o­phy of mind. One of my sub­jects was Dr. Robert Stick­gold, a zany, hyper-intel­li­gent men­sch of a Har­vard sleep researcher. When I met him, I was in med­ical school and hav­ing a grand old time—I’d exact­ed an exten­sion of my tenure beyond the cus­tom­ary four years, so I had enough time to write the book, do my course­work, and have a life. I was busy, but still got enough sleep, had time to exer­cise dai­ly, and even went for din­ner and a movie some­times. Although I found Stickgold’s work inter­est­ing, there was a part of me that just didn’t get it.

Fast-for­ward to the present, when I am a res­i­dent in emer­gency med­i­cine at a busy inner-city trau­ma cen­ter; I have two-year-old twins and a hus­band with a 60-hour-a-week job of his own. I do not exer­cise. I do not eat unless I can do some­thing else pro­duc­tive at the same time, and even when I do get to sleep in my own bed, my slum­ber is frac­tured by the awak­en­ings of two cir­ca­di­an­ly dis­parate tod­dlers. It seems to take me twice as long to “get” new con­cepts as it used to, and I nev­er feel like I’m func­tion­ing at top speed. In short, I am a mess. And NOW I get what Stickgold’s work is all about, and under­stand that he is both quan­ti­fy­ing and explain­ing exact­ly what I’m feel­ing.

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Random Learning? the 8 Random Facts Meme

Orli from Neu­ron­tic tagged me with a new meme –writ­ing about 8 Ran­dom Per­son­al Facts- that is cir­cu­lat­ing among sci­ence blog­gers.  Well, I will hap­pi­ly write about 8 facts that appeared in unex­pect­ed ways yet, seen with per­spec­tive, seem to be a type of non-ran­dom ran­dom­ness, if that makes sense…  

  1. As the old­est child, I was the most responsible/ serious/ with best grades…you get the pic­ture. One of my youngest sib­lings spe­cial­ized in teas­ing me and mak­ing my life dif­fi­cult (from my per­spec­tive then). At some point, I real­ized that my auto­mat­ic men­tal reac­tion to any­thing sus­pi­cious that hap­pened in my life (my bike is not where I left it, there are 2 books miss­ing…) was an angry “this must have been my broth­er!” fol­lowed by intra-fam­i­ly con­flict and the need for UN peace­keep­ers. Let’s say he was respon­si­ble for only 40% of such events…so I real­ized my atti­tude made no sense and it was some­thing I need­ed to con­trol. So, at some point, I devel­oped the men­tal habit of mak­ing fun of my own stu­pid­i­ty when­ev­er that auto­mat­ic reac­tion appeared, and pro­tect­ing a more ratio­nal approach to solv­ing the prob­lem.
  2. Around the same time, at a rou­tine meet­ing between my moth­er, school staff and myself, some­one made a com­ment along “Alvaro has spec­tac­u­lar grades, but he must under­stand that suc­cess in life does not depend on grades alone”. Fas­ci­nat­ing, I remem­ber think­ing, how can that be pos­si­ble? What may that mean? Is it not “fair” and self-evi­dent that if I have great grades every­thing good will fol­low in life? Maybe this opened my mind to under­stand­ing that “intel­li­gence” goes well beyond IQ…
  3. For many years I kept a jour­nal-like doc­u­ment with brief “lessons learned” and “concepts/ say­ings / real­i­ties I don’t under­stand yet”. Some­thing like a “diary of learn­ing and things to be learned”. I don’t keep such a doc­u­ment anymore…and cer­tain­ly not because now I under­stand every­thing.
  4. My last 2 years in high school were extreme­ly social, hav­ing relo­cat­ed to a Read the rest of this entry »

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