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

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

Victory for Pandemrix victims and common sense

Finally. A victory for common sense. The Court of Appeal in the UK has ruled against the Department for Work and Pensions in favour of a boy who developed narcolepsy at the age of seven following vaccination with GSK’s swine flu vaccine Pandemrix in 2009. This judgment has significant implications for other Pandemrix children and their families. The link between Pandemrix and narcolepsy in children began to emerge in the summer of 2010, with epidemiologists subsequently providing compelling evidence of a causal link. The child in this case – John, now 14-years-old – is just one of many to have

Tian Tian, maybe definitely not

It is now virtually certain that Tian Tian, the female giant panda at Edinburgh Zoo, is no longer pregnant. Following artificial insemination in April, the zoo has been tracking Tian Tian’s hormone levels. The one to watch is progesterone. At around the time of ovulation, there is a small rise, with levels remaining roughly constant for several months. At this stage, the embryo is fertilized but is not developing. Then, some 60 to 100 days later, progesterone levels jump again from around 250 ng to 2500 ng (per gram of faeces) and the embryo begins to divide. In a press