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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Scopolamine Addiction

The Scopolamine Addiction

I recently spent $150 dollars on an alarm clock. This is one of many desperate attempts to get rid of sleep – which evolution should have done away with since the invention of the light bulb and the 24 hour Walgreen’s (for all your 4am chocolate needs). Scientists really need to get rid of this intrusion. Soon.

Amidst finals, sleep becomes a rarer commodity, making one wonder: how exactly does this imprisonment work? More so, how does caffeine, otherwise known as God to college students everywhere, work its magic on our brains? Why are we dreaming about taking our exams naked; isn’t stressing out about them while we are awake, enough?! Finally, my gadget review of over-priced and strange alarm clocks will help you to actually get out of this dreadful phase.

Sleep has five stages during which the brain waves – the electrical impulses that cause your neurotransmitters to activate. The Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage is the slowest and the one where people dream. A good night’s sleep must include the REM phase, which is the last 25% of your total sleep allotment. Because of this, loosing a night worth of sleeping to study (or whatever you may be doing in the depths of the night), causes ones brain waves to slow down, making a person irritable and tired. For others, adrenaline – a hormone secreted during high stress situations that creates surges of excitement- will cause one to become excited and overcharged. Caffeine, alcohol, and anti-depressants suppress REM sleep.

The non-REM phase of sleep is an anabolic process, in which physiological processes of growth and rejuvenation of the organism’s immune, nervous, muscular, and skeletal systems occur. Sleep also restores neurons and increases production of brain proteins and certain hormones. Because of this, non-REM sleep aids in memory processing. Some theorists even state that the entire point of sleeping is to process memories from the short term memory area of the brain to the long-term memory area. Sleep is required to do this because memory processing is such a long, strenuous, and error-prone process. Trying to do it while awake would be far too complicated.

A rare disorder – Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), occurs when people randomly stop sleeping. This sleeplessness goes on for 6-30 months until one dies, usually from organ failure, not sleep deprivation. The pathological disruptions include degeneration of the thalamus and other brain areas, over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system, hypertension, fever, tremors, stupor, weight loss, and disruption of the body’s endocrine systems.

How much sleep you need is individually determined, and can be altered through circadian rhythms. These rhythms are a biological clock that produces regular changes in the mental and physical characteristics that occur in the course of a day. The body’s natural circadian rhythm is on a 25 hour cycle, but due to the effects of the sun, most of us naturally adjust to the 24 hour cycle. Light reaches the photoreceptors in the retina, which creates signals through the optic nerve to the suprachiasmatic nucleus- a compilation of 20,000 neurons. These neurons connect to many other parts of the brain which govern functions associated with the sleep/wake cycle, including: body temperature, hormone secretion, urine production, changes in blood pressure, and production of m elatonin- a hormone that produces sleepiness.

The time in which you dream can be anywhere between 5-30 minutes long, usually consisting of multiple dreams, of which very few are remembered. The average person spends 6 years of their life dreaming. Dreams aren’t easily recalled, because learning requires association and repetition. Dreams are usually too warped for those processes to occur. Dreams are caused by random electrical activity that the forebrain tries to make sense of. How our forebrains try to make sense of this information can reveal a lot about who we are or why we are stressed. Nietzsche says, “In the ages of the rude beginning of culture, man believed that he was discovering a second real world in dream, and here is the origin of all metaphysics. Without dreams, mankind would never have had occasion to invent such a division of the world. The parting of soul and body goes also with this way of interpreting dreams; likewise, the idea of a soul’s apparitional body: whence all belief in ghosts, and apparently, too, in gods.” Dr. Diedre Barrett of Harvard Medical School has shown that if a person focuses on a problem while going to sleep, 2/3 of the time the problem is addressed, and 1/3 of the time, a problem is actually rationally solved. This characteristic of dreaming is known as dream incubation.

Caffeine causes increased neuron firing, which makes our brains more active, warding off sleep- but only for so long. The more of it you use, the stronger the effect, and the stronger the counter effect. Caffeine works because it looks like adenosine and attaches to the adenosine receptors in your brain. The molecular structures look similar but the chemicals interact is opposite results in the neurotransmitters. The binding of adenosine causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity. The pituitary gland- which controls your hormones- assumes that the increased neuron firing, caused by the replacement of adenosine by caffeine, is an emergency, and places your body in a state of alert shock, and also produces adrenaline. Adrenaline causes: increased blood pressure, increase in oxygen intake (because breathing tubes open up), tenser muscles, and increased sugar release from the liver for energy. The best way to take in caffeine for a long term effect is to take in small quantities at regular intervals (see chart below for the amount of caffeine in popular drinks). Keep in mind that popular coffee chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts insert extra caffeine into their drinks to keep you coming back, since you body adapts to those levels, and subconsciously ‘needs’ the extra jolts found only in those chains.

The best way to get up is simple, just being excited about life, and savoring your precious waking hours.

What gets you out of bed? Email me with responses, questions, or comments at [email protected].

Soft Drinks

12-ounce beverageMgs of Caffeine  Red Bull (8.2 oz)80.0Mountain Dew55.0Diet Coke45.6Pepsi-Cola37.5Coca-Cola Classic34.0Barq’s Root Beer23.0Lipton Brisk, All Varieties9Sprite0

Other Beverages

8-ounce beverageMgs  Coffee, Drip115-175Coffee, Espresso (2 oz)100Coffee, Instant65-100Tea, iced47Tea, brewed (avg.)50Tea, green15Coffee, Decaf, brewed3-4

SOURCE: US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)