By Richard Gray

Etched with strange pictograms, lines and wedge-shaped markings, they lay buried in the dusty desert earth of Iraq for thousands of years. The clay tablets left by the ancient Sumerians around 5,000 years ago provide what are thought to be the earliest written record of a long dead people.

Although it took decades for archaeologists to decipher the mysterious language preserved on the slabs, they have provided glimpses of what life was like at the dawn of civilisation.

Similar tablets and carved stones have been unearthed at the sites of other mighty cultures that have long since vanished – from the hieroglyphics of the Ancient Egyptians to the inscriptions of the Maya of Mesoamerica.

The stories and details they contain have stood the test of time, surviving through the millennia to be unearthed and deciphered by modern historians. But there are fears that future archaeologists may not benefit from the same sort of immutable record when they come to search for evidence of our own civilisation. We live in a digital world where information is stored as lists of tiny electronic ones and zeros that can be edited or even wiped clean by a few accidental strokes on a keyboard. “Unfortunately we live in an age that will leave hardly any written traces,” explained Martin Kunze.

Kunze’s solution is the Memory of Mankind project, a collaboration between academics, universities, newspapers and libraries to create a modern version of those first ancient Sumerian tablets discovered in the desert. Their plan is to gather together the accumulated knowledge of our time and store it underground in the caverns carved out in one of the oldest salt mines in the world, in the mountains of Austria’s picturesque Salzkammergut. “The main point of what we are doing is to store information in a way that it is readable in the future. It is a backup of our knowledge, our history and our stories,” says Kunze.

Creating a stone “time capsule” may seem archaic in the age where most of our knowledge now floats around the internet cloud, but a slide back into the technological dark ages is not beyond comprehension. The advent of the internet has seen people have more information at their fingertips than at any previous point in human history. Yet the huge repositories of knowledge we have built up are perilously vulnerable.

Ever more information is being stored digitally on remote computer servers and hard disks. How many of us have hard copies of the photographs we took on our last holiday, for example.

The situation gets more serious when we consider scientific papers that are now solely published online. Entire catalogues of video footage from news broadcasters, television and film are stored digitally. Official documents and government papers reside in digital libraries.

Yet a conference of space weather scientists, together with officials from Nasa and the US Government, earlier this year warned of the fragile nature of all this digital information. Charged particles thrown out by the sun in a powerful solar storm could trigger electromagnetic surges that could render our electronic devices useless and wipe data stored in memory drives.

Such storms are a real threat, and they happen relatively regularly. A report produced by the British Government last year highlighted that severe solar storms appear to happen every 100 years.

The last major coronal mass ejection to hit the Earth, known as the Carrington event, was in 1859 and is thought to have been the biggest in 500 years. It blew telegraph systems all over the world and pylons threw sparks. In the age of the internet, such an event would be catastrophic.

But there are other threats too – malicious hackers or even careless officials could tamper with these digital records or delete them altogether. And what if we simply lose the ability to read this information? Technology is changing so fast that media formats are quickly rendered obsolete. Minidiscs, VHS and the humble floppy disk have become outdated within decades.

Few computers even come with DVD drives now, while giving the current generation of teenagers a floppy disk would leave them flummoxed. If information is stored on one of these formats and the technology needed to access it disappears completely, then it could be lost forever.

Hence the desire to keep a hard copy of our most important documents. Unfortunately, even the more traditional forms of storing information are also unlikely to keep information safe for more than a few centuries. While we have some paper manuscripts that have survived for hundreds of years – and in the case of papyrus scrolls, for thousands – unless they are stored in the right conditions, most disintegrate to dust after a couple of hundred years. Newspaper can decompose within six weeks if it gets wet.

“It is very likely that in the long term the only traces of our present activities will be global warming, nuclear waste and Red Bull cans,” says Kunze. “The amount of data is inflating rapidly, so the real challenge becomes selecting what we want to keep for our grandchildren and those that come after them.”

Which is why Kunze and his colleagues are instead looking further back in time for inspiration, to those Sumerian stone tablets. The Memory of Mankind team hopes to create an indelible record of our way of life by imprinting official documents, details about our culture, scientific papers, biographies, popular novels, news stories and even images onto square ceramic plates measuring eight inches (20cm) across.

This hinges on a special process that Kunze describes as “ceramic microfilm”, which he says is the most durable data storage system in the world. The flat ceramic plates are covered with a dark coating and a high energy laser is then used to write into them.

Each of these tablets can hold up to five million characters – about the same as a four-hundred-page book. They are acid- and alkali-resistant and can withstand temperatures of 1300C. A second type of tablet can carry colour pictures and diagrams along with 50,000 characters before being sealed with a transparent glaze.

The plates are then stacked inside ceramic boxes and tucked into the dark caverns of a salt mine in Hallstatt, Austria. As a resting place for what could be described as the ultimate time capsule, it is impressive. In the right light the walls still glisten with the remnants of salt, which extracts moisture and desiccates the air.

The salt itself has a Plasticine-like property that helps to seal fractures and cracks, keeping the tomb watertight. Buried beneath millions of tonnes of rock, the records will be able to survive for millennia and perhaps even entire ice ages, Kunze believes.

In some distant future after our own civilisation has vanished, they could prove invaluable to any who find them. They could help resurrect forgotten knowledge for cultures less advanced than our own, or provide a wealth of historical information for more advanced civilisations to ensure our own achievements, and our mistakes, can be learned from.

But it could also have value in the shorter term too.

“We are trying to create something that will not only be a collection of information for a distant future, but it will also be a gift for our grandchildren,” says Kunze. “Memory of Mankind can serve as a backup of knowledge in case of an event like war, a pandemic or a meteorite that throws us back centuries within two or three generations. A society can lose skills and knowledge very quickly – in the 6th Century, Europe largely lost the ability to read and write within three generations.”

Already the Memory of Mankind archive contains an eclectic glimpse of our society. Among the information etched into the ceramic plates are books summarising the history of individual countries around the world. Towns and villages have also opted to include their own local histories. A thousand of the world’s most important books – chosen by combining published lists using an algorithm developed by the University of Vienna – will be cut into the coating on the ceramic plates.

Museums are including images of precious objects in their collections along with descriptions of what we have learned about them. The Krumau Madonna – a sculpture dating to the late 14th Century currently sitting in the Museum of Art History in Vienna – is already there, along with paintings by the Baroque artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck.

There are plates featuring pictures of fossils – dinosaurs, prehistoric fish and extinct ammonites – alongside a description of what we know about them. Even our current understanding of our own origins are included, with pictures of one of the earliest examples of sculpture ever found – the Venus of Willendorf.

Much of the material included on the tablets is in German, but there are tablets in English, French and other languages.

A handful of celebrities have also found themselves immortalised in the salt-lined vaults. Baywatch star and singer David Hasselhoff has a particularly lengthy entry as does German singer Nena who had a hit with 99 Red Balloons in the 1980s. Nestled among them is a plate detailing the story of Edward Snowden and his leak of classified material from the US National Security Agency.

The University of Vienna has been placing prize winning PhD dissertations and scientific papers onto the tablets. Included in the archive are plates describing genetic modification and bioengineering patents, explaining what today’s scientists have achieved and how they managed it.

And alongside research, everyday objects like washing machines, smartphones and televisions are also being documented as a record of what life is like today.

The plates also serve as a warning for future generations – with sites of nuclear waste dumps pinpointed so future generations might know to avoid them or to clean them up if they have the technology. Newspapers have been asked to send their daily editorials to provide a repository of opinions as well as facts.

In many ways, the real problem is what not to include. “We probably have about 0.1% of the antique literature yet in the modern world publishing is as easy as posting something on the internet or sending a tweet,” explains Kunze. “Publications about science, space flight and medicine – the things we really spend money on – drown in the mass of data we produce. The Large Hadron Collider produces something like 30 Petabytes of data a year, but this is equal to just 0.003% of annual internet traffic. “A random fragment of 0.1% of our present day data will result in a very distorted view of our time.”

To tackle this, Kunze and his colleagues are organising a conference in November next year to bring scientists, historians, archaeologists, linguists and philosophers together to create a blueprint for selecting content for the project. The team also hope to immortalise glimpses of mundane, everyday life as members of the public are encouraged to create tablets of their own. “We are saving cooking recipes and stories of love and personal events,” adds Kunze. “On one plate, a little girl has included three photographs of her confirmation and written a short bit of text about it. They give a glimpse of everyday life that will be very valuable.”

Preserved tweets

Memory of Mankind is not the only project to face the daunting task of preserving humanity’s accumulated knowledge. Librarians around the world are also looking at the knotty problem of how to save the information from the modern age.

The University of California Los Angeles, for instance, is archiving tweets related to major events and preserving them in their own archives. “We are collecting tweets from Cairo on the day of the January 25th revolution for example,” explained Todd Grappone, associate university librarian. “We are then translating them into multiple languages and saving them in file formats that are likely to be robust for the future. We are only doing it digitally at the moment as we have something like 1,000 cellphone videos from that event alone, but the value of that is enormous.”

Another project, called the Human Document Project, is aiming to record information on wafers of tungsten/silicon nitride. Initially they have been etching them with dozens of tiny QR codes – a type of two-dimensional barcode – which can be read using smartphones, but they say the final disks will hold information written in a form that can be read using a microscope.

Leon Abelmann, a researcher at Twente University in Enschede, the Netherlands, is one of the driving forces behind the project. He says that they are hoping to produce something that will be able to survive for one million years and are now starting to collaborate with the Memory of Mankind. “We would be really happy if we found information left for us by an intelligence that has already been extinct for a million years,” he said. “So we think future intelligent beings will be too. The mere fact that we need to take a helicopter view of ourselves will hopefully make us realise that the differences between us are trivial.”

Buried under a mountain, it may seem unlikely that any future generations would be able to find these tablets. For this reason, Memory of Mankind will has engraved some small tokens with a map pinpointing the archives’ location, which they will then bury at strategic places around the world. Other tokens are being entrusted to 50 holders who will pass them onto the next generation.

To ensure those who do find it can actually read what is in there, the Memory of Mankind team has been creating their own Rosetta Stone – thousands of images labelled with their names and meanings.

All of which gives a hint at the ambition of what they are trying to do. The individuals who unearth this gold-mine of knowledge could be very different from our own. In a few thousand years civilisation may have advanced beyond our reckoning or descended back to the dark ages. Perhaps it will not even be humans who end up uncovering our memories. “We could be looking at some other form of intelligent life,” adds Kunze.

We will never know what those future archaeologists will make of our civilisation when they wipe the dust away from the tablets in thousands of years’ time, but we can hope that like the ancient Sumarians, we will not be forgotten.

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

Laughter signals social status

Posted: October 26, 2016 in laughter

Perhaps the most memorable scene in the movie Goodfellas (1990) was not originally in the script but came out of actor Joe Pesci’s own experience as a young waiter who made the mistake of calling a mobster he served a wiseguy. “Funny how?” asks Pesci, as the mobster Tommy DeVito in the film, when Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) makes the same mistake of calling him “funny.” In the tense exchange that follows, which director Martin Scorsese allowed Pesci and Liotta to improvise before their genuinely surprised fellow mobsters, the result is not only one of Hollywood’s finest mob moments but a lesson in the role of laughter within social hierarchies.

In fact, according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which confirms the deep human intuition of Pesci’s scene, laughter signals social status.

Human laughter is omnipresent — occurring in 95 percent of conversations by one estimate — and, as demonstrated in Goodfellas, we laugh for a number of reasons: because we are amused, to signal agreement or defuse tension, or just because others are laughing. Believed to have evolved from the “play face,” a relaxed, open-mouth display visible in chimpanzees, laughter signals that a behavior is safe, even playful. “By using laughter alongside aggressive statements,” says the study’s lead author, Christopher Oveis, a professor of economics and strategic management at the University of California, San Diego, “laughter can render an aggressive behavior less serious and more socially appropriate.”

Several studies have suggested that laughter plays a key role in social bonding and getting others to like us, and when you are lower in the status hierarchy, you are especially likely to laugh, often unconsciously, at just about anything remotely funny your boss, professor or higher-ranking mobster has to say. But it’s not just low-status individuals using “submissive” laughter to ingratiate themselves to their superiors. More dominant individuals like Tommy DeVito also use laughter as a means of expressing that dominance and negotiating rank in a way that, according to the new findings, can signal status to your peers sitting around at the bar.

As their test subjects, Oveis and his colleagues chose not a group of mobsters but 48 fraternity brothers at a public American university, whom they divided into low-status “pledges” and high-status members, and then recorded them doing what fraternity brothers do best (besides drinking) — exchanging jokes and teasing each other. They found that high-status brothers were more likely to engage in “dominant” laughter that was louder, less inhibited and — somewhat surprisingly (unless you’re Joe Pesci) — higher in pitch than the shorter, more inhibited and lower-pitched laughter exhibited by the low-status pledges.

Even more interestingly, when the researchers played audio clips of the frat-boy laughter to other undergraduate students, the participants were able to distinguish dominant and submissive laughter, not to mention accurately identify the higher- and lower-status brothers by their laughter.

But do such dynamics hold true outside the frat house? It’s a defensible sample, says Tyler Stillman, a management professor at Southern Utah University who has studied laughter extensively, but one that still differs from the general population, among other things, because “fraternities can have clearly defined hierarchies — something one might find at work but not among friends.” The study also looked exclusively at men, something Oveis tells OZY they are in the process of remedying with ongoing research into women’s laughter. They also plan to investigate how laughter works in other types of relationships, including between co-workers or romantic partners.

by Jaymi Heimbuch

The annual bison round-up is underway in Antelope Island State Park in Utah.

Each year, the bison herd grows by about 100-150 individuals as new calves are born in the spring, but the park has limited resources for grazing. Park biologists aim to keep the herd numbering around 550 individuals to keep resources balanced. The solution is an annual roundup that not only functions to thin the herd but also ensure the individuals released back into the park are as healthy as possible.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune:

[H]orse riders round up and push the bison into small herds. The bison are then driven into a holding corral where they rest for five days in an effort to reduce their stress levels.Then, on October 27, bison are sorted and separated one at a time to receive vaccinations and health screening. They also receive a small external computer chip to store health information.Some are released back into the island and a few are later sold in a public auction.

The annual event draws crowds. The visitors can watch the bison brought into corrals by riders on horseback, learn about the health screenings the bison undergo — including a blood draw to test for diseases and inoculations — and of course enjoy music and food.

As for the bison that are auctioned, Desert News notes, “The bison sell for up to $3,000, depending on their size and the bidding of the day, said park curator Clay Shelley. Any revenues are put back into the Wildlife and Habitat Management Plan, which manages the herd and provides for protection, preservation and conservation efforts on the island, as well as development demands to provide quality visitor experiences.”

by Tori Rodriguez, MA, LPC

Individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) have double the risk of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) and vice versa, and it has previously been proposed that some people with MDD may use alcohol to self-medicate. Though alcohol can become depressant if used chronically, alcohol initially has an antidepressant effect, though the underlying mechanisms have not been identified. Findings reported in September 2016 in Nature Communications begin to elucidate the basis of this action.

Behavioral and molecular evidence of the rapid antidepressant activity of NMDA receptor (NMDAR) antagonists, which have been found to be effective within 2 hours of administration and remain so for 2 weeks, represents a significant advance in depression treatment. Antidepressant efficacy involves the induction phase and the sustained phase.

The sustained phase of rapid antidepressants requires “both new protein synthesis and an increase in protein stability… for the GABABR shift in function necessary to increase” the activity of mTORC1, a mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1, the authors explained in their paper. Rapamycin (mTOR) is a “serine/threonine kinase essential for messenger RNA translation” and is required for the sustained impact of rapid antidepressants.

Citing previous findings that ethanol (EtOH) also blocks NMDARs in the hippocampus, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, aimed to determine whether EtOH and NMDAR antagonists exert rapid antidepressant effects via the same synaptic pathways in rodents. They hypothesized that EtOH “has lasting antidepressant efficacy, shares the same downstream molecular signaling events as rapid antidepressants, and requires de novo protein synthesis.”

First, they found that acute exposure to EtOH led to antidepressant and anxiolytic behaviors in rodents for up to 24 hours. They then discovered that, like NMDAR antagonists, EtOH alters the expression and signaling of GABABR, increases dendritic calcium, and leads to the synthesis of new GABABRs. This synthesis requires fragile-X mental retardation protein (FMRP), an RNA-binding protein of which precise levels are needed for normal neuronal functioning.

The antidepressant effects and the changes in GABABR expression and dendritic calcium were not observed in in Fmr1-knockout (KO) mice, supporting the concept that FMRP has in important role in regulating protein synthesis after EtOH exposure, and thereby facilitating its antidepressant efficacy.

These results point to a shared molecular pathway for the antidepressant activity of EtOH and rapid antidepressants, and highlight a mechanism involved in the initial antidepressant action of alcohol. “A shift in GABABR signaling is observed with both rapid antidepressants and acute EtOH treatment, which may provide insight into the molecular basis for the high comorbidity between major depressive disorder and AUD,” the authors concluded.

By Beckie Strum

Science says it’s OK to pay your children to eat their fruits and vegetables.

The strategy not only works in the short term, but can create healthful eating habits in children in the long run if the little bribe is carried out consistently for several weeks, according to a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Health Economics.

“As a parent, imagine that there’s something to do that might be worth my effort, and I get the long-term benefit,” says Joseph Price, associate professor of economics at Brigham Young University. He co-wrote the paper with George Loewenstein, professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, and Kevin Volpp, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

For a year and a half, the researchers carried out a study of 8,000 children in first through sixth grade at 40 elementary schools to test whether short-run incentives could create better, and lasting, eating habits in children.

At lunchtime, students who ate at least one serving of fruit or vegetable, such as an apple, fresh peaches, pineapple, side salad or a banana, received a 25-cent token that could be redeemed at the school’s store, carnival or book fair.

The researchers saw an immediate spike in consumption, Dr. Price says. “These small incentives produced a dramatic increase in fruit and vegetable consumption during the incentive period,” the researchers wrote. “This change in behavior was sustained.”

Two months after the incentives ended, many more students than before the program started were still eating a fruit or vegetable at lunch. For schools that provided the 25-cent incentive for three weeks, 21% more children were eating at least one serving of fruit or vegetable at lunch than before.

The effect was even greater for schools that implemented the program for five weeks, which led to a 44% increase in consumption two months out.

Positive peer pressure played a role in getting the children to adopt and then stick to the program. A health economist from Cornell University has even suggested that one way to establish the social norm even quicker was by making sure the “cool kids” were the early adopters of the behavior, Dr. Price says.

The researchers also believe that the more often students ate fruits and vegetables, the more they learned to like them. Dr. Price draws an example from his personal life, saying he offered his son an incentive to practice hitting a baseball. The more his son practiced, the better he got and the more he liked playing, Dr. Price says.

Parents or schools could also try nonmonetary rewards, such as extended recess or gym class, Dr. Price says.

by Paul Ratner

If you had enough of the often-depressing world events and the seemingly unresolvable conflicts they engender, you might want to head for space and join the first-ever “nation state in space” that’s been announced by a team of scientists and legal experts. It’s called Asgardia and anyone can become its citizen.

As the site for the project explains (, Asgardia is a name that comes from Norse mythology, where Asgard was the name of a city in the sky. In the Marvel universe, Asgardia was built was Tony Stark and ruled by the All-Mother (since Odin was in exile).

Asgardia is the brain-child of the accomplished Russian scientist and businessman Igor Ashurbeyli, who describes the motivation behind this endeavor as an attempt to create a nation founded on “Peace in Space, and the prevention of Earth’s conflicts being transferred into space.” The idea is to create a “mirror of humanity in space” in low-Earth orbit that would be devoid of Earthly divisions based on borders and religions. As Ashurbeyli says: “In Asgardia we are all just Earthlings!”

Besides avoiding Earth-linked divisions, another key goal for the nation would be to protect Earth from space threats, like comets, asteroids, debris, cosmic radiation and infection by extraterrestrial microorganisms.

To make this space nation a reality, Ashurbeyli wants it to achieve recognition from the United Nations, aiming to have a million people sign up to become the new country’s citizens via their website. The initial citizens are likely to be those who work in the space industry already, but anyone can join. The initial goal for the founders was to get 100,000 citizens to sign up, but the number of interested people hit 300K in less than a week and is going up rapidly.

The next step for Asgardia – launching its first satellite in 2017. This will become its first outpost in space, while its citizens will still be Earth-bound. A space station would eventually follow.

As Igor Ashurbeyli explained to the Guardian:

“Physically the citizens of that nation state will be on Earth; they will be living in different countries on Earth, so they will be a citizen of their own country and at the same time they will be citizens of Asgardia.”

The new country will be democratic but not ruled by Earthly laws or the existing space laws. Its founders envision the need for a new “‘Universal space law’ and ‘astropolitics’.

“The existing state agencies represent interests of their own countries and there are not so many countries in the world that have those space agencies,” elaborated Ashurbeyli. “The ultimate aim is to create a legal platform to ensure protection of planet Earth and to provide access to space technologies for those who do not have that access at the moment.”

Whether this effort succeeds, especially in light of the existing space treaty, is of course open to debate, while legal minds are not dismissing it outright.

The Asgardia team’s legal expert Ram Jakhu, the director of McGill University’s Institute of Air and Space Law in Montreal, told their plan is for Asgardia to have the minimum number of citizens, a government, and an inhabited spacecraft that would be its territory. This would hit 3 of the 4 criteria by the U.N. to become a nation state. The last hurdle is recognition by other U.N. members.

To learn more about Asgardia, to sign up as one of its first citizens, or to come up with the new space nation’s flag and anthem, head here:

by Philip Perry

According to the National Institutes of Health, we spend about 26 years of our life asleep, one-third of the total. The latest research states that between 6.4 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night is ideal for most people. But some need more and others less. A contingent out there, mostly women, who do surprisingly well on just six hours.

There is even some data to suggest that a slim minority, around three percent of the population, thrive on just three hours sleep per night, with no ill effects. Of course, most people need much more. Even though in general, Americans are getting far less sleep today than in the past.

Cutting out needful rest could damage your health, long-term. A recent study showed that sleep is essential to clearing the brain of toxins that build up over the course of the day. It also helps in memory formation and allows other organs to repair themselves. Our professional lives and our natural cycles don’t always mesh. Often, they are at odds.

What if you are insanely busy, like ten times the norm? Say you are going to medical school, earning your PhD, or are trying to get a business off the ground. There may not be enough hours in the day for what you have to do.

One thing you can do is rearrange your sleep cycle to give yourself more time. Paleoanthropologists espouse that our ancestors probably didn’t sleep for seven hours at a clip, as it would make them easy prey. Instead, they probably slept at different periods throughout the day and night, and you can too.

What we consider a “normal” sleep cycle is called monophasic. This is sleeping for one long period throughout the night. In some Southern European and Latin American countries, the style is biphasic. They sleep five to six hours per night, with a 60-90 minute siesta during midday. There is a historical precedent too. Before the advent of artificial light, most people slept in two chunks each night of four hours each, with an hour of wakefulness in-between. That’s also a biphasic system. Then there is polyphasic sleep. This is sleeping for different periods and amounts of time throughout the day.

Certain paragons of history slept this way including Leonardo Da Vinci, Nikola Tesla, Franz Kafka, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Edison, among others. The idea gained popularity in the 1970’s and 80’s among the scientific community. Buckminster Fuller, a famous American inventor, architect, and philosopher of the 1900’s, championed this kind of slumber. He branded his version Dymaxion sleep.

Here, you take a half hour nap every six hours and sleep a total of just two hours per night. Swiss artist Francesco Jost practiced it for 49 days straight once, while observed by Italian neurologist Claudio Stampi. At first, Jost had trouble adjusting. But soon after, he was able to make it work with few side effects. He did have trouble waking at times, however. But the artist gained five more hours each day.

Do a quick search of polyphasic sleep and you find that many people around the world are experimenting with it. There are different ways of doing it. Some try the Uberman schedule. Here, one takes six 30 minute naps throughout the day at 2 P.M., 6 P.M., 2 A.M., and 10 A.M. That’s three hours of sleep total. Another way to do it is the Everyman Schedule. Here, a three hour chunk of sleep takes place between 1 A.M. and 4 A.M. Then, three 20 minute naps occur throughout the day at 9 A.M., 2 P.M., and 9 P.M. That’s around 4.5 hours of sleep daily.

So what’s the science behind this radical system? Unfortunately, no long-term research has been conducted, yet. One 2007 study, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, found that most animals sleep on a polyphasic schedule, rather getting their sleep all at once. This also begs the question, how much sleep does the human brain need to function properly? The answer is unknown.

Sleep is broken into three cycles. There is light sleep, deep sleep, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The last one is considered the most important and restful of phases. We don’t stay in any one phase for long. Instead, we cycle through these constantly throughout the night. So with polyphasic sleep, the idea is to experience these three phases in shorter amounts of time, and wake up rested.

We don’t know the exact purpose of these phases. Sleep is still something of a mystery. Without a good understanding, it’s difficult to quantify the impact a polyphasic schedule has. One question is whether such a schedule allows for enough REM sleep. Polyphasic practitioners say they are able to enter the REM phase quickly, more so than with a monophasic style. Jost for example, claimed he could enter REM sleep immediately. This quick entry into the REM state is known as “repartitioning.” The deprivation of sleep may help the body enter REM quickly, as an adaptation.

So what are the downsides of this altered sleep cycle? Boredom and a limited social life. For those who want to go out drinking with friends, stay up late watching movies, or spend time with the kids, the drastic schedule change can cause problems. It has to be rigidly kept to work. Another concern, some studies have shown that those who sleep under five or six hours per night may have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and lower immune system functioning.

Some argue that sleep theories just don’t account for human diversity in needs. For instance, some insomniacs have praised a polyphasic style for helping them regain the ability to sleep. At issue is the lack of data. But of course, anyone who is considering seriously taking part in such a style should consult a physician and keep in touch with him or her regularly, throughout the process.

How people sleep and how much they need varies widely. This may or may not have a genetic component. More research on sleep may help us to determine what our brain and body needs, and how we can adjust our sleep patterns to get the most out of our day, without sacrificing our health.