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Night School

The Life-Changing Science of Sleep

By Richard Wiseman
15-minute read
Audio available
Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep by Richard Wiseman

Night School (2014) is about an often neglected yet essential ingredient for happiness and success in life: a good night’s sleep. People have been struggling with sleep for centuries, and while we’ve come up with some methods for alleviating insomnia, we’ve also gained a lot of insight into why sleep is so crucial.

  • Insomniacs desperate for a good night’s sleep
  • Workaholics who think sleep is overrated
  • Readers wondering why they have nightmares

Richard Wiseman is a professor at the University of Hertfordshire and one of Britain’s most acclaimed psychologists. He is celebrated for making complex concepts accessible to the general public through his popular YouTube videos and his best-selling books, such as 59 Seconds and Quirkology.

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Night School

The Life-Changing Science of Sleep

By Richard Wiseman
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep by Richard Wiseman
Synopsis

Night School (2014) is about an often neglected yet essential ingredient for happiness and success in life: a good night’s sleep. People have been struggling with sleep for centuries, and while we’ve come up with some methods for alleviating insomnia, we’ve also gained a lot of insight into why sleep is so crucial.

Key idea 1 of 9

A good night’s sleep involves five stages where muscles relax, brain waves decrease and dreams begin.

Everyone knows that sleep is just what you do when you’re not awake, right? Well, while some of us might take sleep for granted and think of it as a simple daily routine, it’s actually a fascinating and complex process.

Before we fall asleep, we need to gradually help the mind and body relax.

With an electroencephalogram, or EEG, scientists can monitor brain activity and see that our brains produces between 12 and 30 electric waves per second when we’re awake. But when we settle into bed, this slows down to around 8 to 12 waves per second.

In the first stage of sleep, the muscles and the mind relax, and brain activity slows down even further, to around three to seven waves per second. This is when the brain begins to produce creative and less rational ideas.

Salvador Dalì took advantage of this stage by holding a spoon over a glass, and as he would drift off into the first stage of sleep, his muscles would relax and the spoon would fall into the glass, waking him up. He would then use the abstract images or idea that he had just imagined in his art.

In the second stage, muscles continue to relax and your breathing becomes deeper. This is the stage when your throat muscles relax and snoring can ensue.

After the second stage, we move from light sleep into the deep sleep of stages three and four.

At this point, brain activity decreases to just one or two waves per second, and the body is entirely disconnected from its surroundings, which is why it is difficult to wake someone up when they’re in the third or fourth stage of sleep. And if they do wake up from these stages, they’ll likely feel groggy and have a hard time focusing for a little while.

Finally, in stage five, the heart rate accelerates and rapid eye movement (REM) begins, which is a sign that the person is dreaming.

From here, the whole cycle starts again. Progressing from stage one to stage five generally takes about 90 minutes – so the entire process can repeat about five times in an average night.

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