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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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