Cerebral Hygiene

Gavin Francis

  • BuyThe Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest Is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life by Meir Kryger
    Yale, 330 pp, £20.00, May, ISBN 978 0 300 22408 5

An apnoea is a cessation of breathing. When sufferers of sleep apnoea enter deep sleep, their airway becomes blocked by the tissues around their throat. They may gasp for air, and stir hundreds of times a night to a level just below conscious awareness. People with sleep apnoea wake up in the morning feeling as if they’ve slept normally, but are chronically tired because their sleep isn’t restorative. As a medical student in the 1990s I was paid to be a subject in sleep apnoea experiments. The condition had been described not twenty years earlier, and researchers were still trying to define how debilitating it could be. I’d cycle over to a sleep lab in Edinburgh’s psychiatric hospital, have electrodes glued to my head, then be shown to a room with a bed and a one-way mirror, on the other side of which sat a researcher, watching. They didn’t tell me on which nights my sleep would be interrupted: on these test nights, whenever I drifted into a deep sleep the researcher would play sounds through a loudspeaker over the bed, raising my encephalography (EEG) reading until I was nearly but not quite awake. The next morning I would be convinced I’d slept the night through, but the tests of mental agility and hazard awareness they put me through suggested otherwise. I’d crash the driving simulator and flunk at mental arithmetic.

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