Sleep usually leaves people feeling rested and refreshed,but for the patients of clinical neurologist Guy Leschziner,their non-waking moments are generally anything but peaceful.One realizes that she's been taking her motorcycle out for a ride while fast asleep only after her landlady asks her where she went.Another moves around in his sleep,acting out his dreams—and terrifying his partner in the process.Still others suffer from insomnia,sleep deprivation,and night terrors.
Leschziner describes their cases."These cases are interesting in two separate ways—the first is just simply the drama of the stories,the human experiences of these patients,"Leschziner says."But also,when one looks at the extremes,it informs us normal as well.By seeing these patients and seeing where the problem is in the brain,we understand something about how our brains regulate sleep."
The Verge spoke with Leschziner about what makes for a good night's sleep,what's going on in the brain when we dream,and how sleep disorders could provide a window into other health issues.This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
You write a lot about abnormal sleep and the patients that you've encountered in your practice.I'd like to start off by asking about the opposite:what does a normal good night's sleep look like?
Sleep—as well as being an objective experience—is also a subjective experience.From an objective perspective,a good night's sleep is viewed as having a sufficiently consolidated night's sleep,divided into one or two tranches.If one looks at the population,seven to eight hours is seen as the optimal amount of sleep.But for each individual,the subjective experience of sleep is somewhat different.There could be people who wake up several times a night,but wake up feeling refreshed.Whereas for other people,what is apparently and objectively a good night's sleep,can make them feel extremely tired and unrefreshed.So there is this kind of disparity between the objective physical manifestation of sleep and the subjective experience.
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