By JAMES BROWN
Glasgow Daily Times
Sleep — what is it good for? Absolutely everything, according to Dr. James Maas.
Sleep is the thing we almost all cheat on. In order to have a little more time for work or pleasure, we cut out sleep. That was the crux of Dr. Maas’ message to members of Western Kentucky University’s faculty and staff when he spoke at Gary Ransdell Hall on Wednesday. The doctor, who is a retired academic from Cornell University whose expertise is the effects of sleep on the human body, mind and emotion, gave three presentations while in Bowling Green. He spoke to coaches and athletic staff in the morning, to faculty in midday and to a freshman assembly Wednesday night. His midday presentation was very entertaining and included a video where President George W. Bush was giving a speech and in the background was a boy, probably about 12 or 13 years old who was having a hard time staying awake despite standing the whole time.
For those who are YouTube savvy, here is the link to the video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YgQt0HTHa-E.
It’s a hoot.
Dr. Maas was in southcentral Kentucky at the invitation of Dr. Phillip Bale of Glasgow. Dr. Bale explained he and Dr. Maas had become friends in recent years as Bale has become more interested in the affects of sleep on our health. Maas studies sleep and especially how it relates to performance, both athletic and non-athletic.
Dr. Maas said he told the members of WKU’s athletic department at the early presentation that having early morning practices is counter productive. He explained the brain process and files away the information it gathers each day while sleeping and that if student athletes aren’t getting enough sleep, they do not have time for their brains to convert short-term memory items into long-term memory.
He explained the sleep time is expecially important to convert learned physical routines into permanent muscle memory. (I am giving a very generic explanation. There were some discovered physiological things that occur during sleep that are above my ability to fully explain. The doctor has a book that apparently covers much of this information.) He said most people need eight hours of sleep for maximum transfer from short term to long term memory of things learned during a day.
While every parent of a teenager knows they sleep a lot, Dr. Maas explains they are not just being lazy bums, it’s the way they are programmed at that age. He stated they need at least 9.25 hours of sleep a night to function best when asleep.
He said whenever your teenager is moody and difficult or argumentative, it is likely because they are sleep deprived. He explained sleep quality and quantity directly impacts mood, alertness, energy, thinking, performance and productivity. That is true for everyone no matter their age, it just may be more apparent in “moody” teenagers. Dr. Maas said teens need more time asleep because they are growing and their minds and bodies need the extra processing time. (Having two teens of my own, my wife and I have experienced what happens when they do not get enough sleep. It is not pretty.) Dr. Maas joked a question often uttered by parents to teens is, “‘don’t you have a brain in your body.’ With six hours of sleep, the answer is no.”
Aside from the discussion about how sleep affects performance, what was also very interesting to me was the stages of sleep.
There are four stages that occur that are deeper sleep and different things happen in our minds in each of these stages. Ninety minutes after falling asleep, the doctor explained, is when REM sleep occurs, which is when we dream. On a diagram, it showed the first REM lasts nine minutes. These things continue throughout an eight period of sleep.
Dr. Maas said some people claim not to dream, but that dreams are mostly remembered when we wake up while in REM. That means everyone dreams, but not everyone awakes at a time when they will remember dreaming.
There are four times during eight hours of sleep when we enter REM and each time is increasingly longer.
Dr. Bale, who is on the board of regents at WKU, said his study of sleep and Dr. Maas’ research has convinced him school days should begin later in the morning to help students to perform better. Maas pointed out research at some boarding schools has shown increases in academic and athletic performance with later start dates and more time for sleep by students.
James Brown is editor of the Glasgow Daily Times. He can be contacted by e-mail at jbrown@glasgowdailytimes .com.