Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Internal Alarm Clock

Last night as I was going to sleep my mind was occupied by the thoughts of the large amount of work I would need to get through in the coming days, which meant I was going to have to get up early again this morning. I don't normally set alarms unless I absolutely have to as I usually find myself waking up one, two or five minutes before the thing goes off anyway, as if by magic. Then it hit me and I had the inspiration for my next blog post, what if I don't in fact have magical powers? Is there a scientific reason for this phenomenon?

A quick Google search showed me that I'm not alone. This is a very common occurrence and source of bewilderment for the population of the internet and they wanted answers too. I soon found this study by Jan Born and others from 1999 which made some intriguing findings on sleep that cast an interesting light on consciousness.

In their study Born et al. showed that the expectation that sleep would be interrupted at a specific time led to a rise in the concentration of the hormone adrenocorticotropin in the blood of the fifteen subjects approximately one hour before the expected wakeup call from the experimenters. These results were noted with polysomnographical recordings (EEG EOG and EMG) and blood samples which were taken every fifteen minutes.

They say this goes against the commonly held belief that sleep is controlled by circadian rhythm and that these results are an indication that anticipation is evident during sleep. I think most people would agree that anticipation is only supposed to regulate conscious action but if that is the case then how do our bodies 'just know' to wake up? Is sub consciousness at play here, or even unconscious consciousness? The evidence is pretty compelling and it has forced me to re-evaluate my take on what consciousness actually is.

4 comments:

  1. Sleep is a fascinating subject for me, not least because I never seem to get enough of it, so I found this post revealing. I concur with the suspicion that there is something else at work here; whenever I have one of those awful 4am starts for a flight, I never have any difficulty waking just before the alarm goes off. I am unable to replicate this ability on ordinary weekdays. The subjects in this study were all in their mid-twenties however, and I wonder what the results might be if it were replicated with sleep-deprived parents of young children or with elderly or retired people?

    The poet John Keats thought that consciousness had something to do with what he called the divine forgetfulness of sleep too. In his beautiful Ode to Sleep he asks:
    "Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
    Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
    Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
    And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul"

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  2. Well I'm fairly certain there is no such thing as an internal clock. I know Fred would kill me for suggesting it. But I find our ability to estimate time really fascinating being accurate to minutes and seconds.

    It does seem that our body would undergo a level of stress when we know something is coming up . In a fastest finger on the buzzer scenario you will be under more stress as you redirect energy to focused attention. It seems that redirected attention and anticipation can be experienced during sleep. Something hasn't been resolved "like a splinter in your mind". This keeps people awake with insomnia to a greater extent. Perhaps the processes are linked.

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    Replies
    1. Why on earth would I object to such a comment?

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  3. This is a question I hope anyone can help. I have recently been put on a night shift (7:30 pm to 5:30 am) and it is 4 days a week. I want to somehow be awake during the days on my days off but have found it very hard and sleeping WAY to long. Does anyone know any tips or tricks?

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