Deep sleep, brain magnets and memory

Deep non-REM sleep appears to affect how well we commit a new task to memory Sleep specialists like to divide sleep into one of two states: rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM). Since the discovery of REM and its tight link to dreaming in 1953, there has been a lot of research focused on this paradoxical wake-like state. But as we experience much more non-REM than REM during the night, non-REM or deep sleep might be the more important of the two states. It’s likely there are many functions of non-REM. It could simply be

The horrors of sleep deprivation

The definitive demonstration of the horrors of sleep deprivation appeared in a celebrated paper published by sleep research pioneer Allan Rechtschaffen and his colleagues in Science in 1983. They used rats. What nobody had managed until then was to design a set-up in which both experimental and control animals received exactly the same conditions but different amounts of sleep. The solution Rechtschaffen and co. came up with is as ingenious as it is disturbing. They installed a pair of rats in neighbouring cages. In the bottom of each cage was 3cm of water, but by standing on a record-player-like disk

Gessner’s bear

Last month, I hosted a post by historian Florike Egmond on my Guardian blog Animal Magic, one that proved incredibly popular. A few years ago, Egmond was in the Amsterdam University Library when she discovered an amazing collection of 16th-century drawings and watercolours of animals collected by the founding father of zoology Conrad Gessner and his fellow Swiss successor Felix Platter. These and many more illustrations feature in her new book on early modern natural history illustration, Eye For Detail (Reaktion Books, 2017) and I invited Egmond (with the kind permission of Amsterdam University Library) to put together a gallery

Why don’t pandas have more sex?

It’s true. Male pandas have such teensy winkies that many humans trained in the ways of sexing bears have mistaken boy pandas for girl pandas. Female pandas have a reproductive window so fleeting – just a day or two a year – that even if a male panda were to erect his little soldier, it would be unlikely to see any action. Based on these two observations, many people like to imagine that pandas are sexually inadequate, a species that would surely be extinct were it not for the supportive role played by humans. The truth about pandas and sex

Five nights in Stanford

I’ve just returned from a mind-blowing trip to Stanford University, five days of back-to-back interviews with some of the most important figures in sleep research. It’ll all be in the book. This was made possible by a generous grant from The Society of Authors. I got to meet William Dement, a legend in the field of sleep medicine and the reason why Stanford has such a high concentration of great doctors and researchers interested in sleep. I spent several delightful hours in the company of Christian Guilleminault, less well known than Dement but, in my view, an equal partner in

Lonesome George is back in Galapagos

Lonesome George the giant tortoise, the last individual of his species, has returned to Galapagos after an absence of almost five years. Following his unexpected death in 2012, the Galapagos National Park agreed to send him to a top-end taxidermist in New York. After painstaking treatment, George went on show at the American Museum of Natural History in 2014. He is now back in Galapagos, the centerpiece of a new exhibition aimed at visitors to the Fausto Llerena Breeding Center on Santa Cruz. By the time I met Lonesome George during my first visit to Galapagos in 2003, he had