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Sleep architecture

Based on the reasoning in my first post, one might think that rather than invent a new word—hypnotecture— I ought to talk instead in terms of sleep design or sleep architecture. While I will and do use the term sleep design, I can’t use the words sleep architecture to mean hypnotecture, simply because the phrase means something else already.

When sleep researchers talk about sleep architecture, they are referring to the structure of a person’s sleep during the night. We don’t really notice it, since sleep generally implies that one is not self aware, but when we sleep there are a number of distinct types of sleep we can experience. These are called sleep stages, and are characterized by the details of our brain wave acivity. The first four stages are simply numbered one through four, though stages three and four together are referred to as slow wave sleep, or SWS. In addition to these, there is a fifth stage, called REM sleep (for Rapid Eye Movement). The numbered sleep stages run from lightest (stage 1) to deepest (stage 4); REM sleep is sometimes referred to as paradoxical sleep because brain activity looks in many ways as if the person is awake.

Over the course of a typical night, a person transitions between all of these stages. The overall structure and timing of these transitions are what are referred to as sleep architecture.

I’ll write about each of the stages in its own post, but the short version is that stage 1 is basically a transition between waking and sleeping, an doesn’t seem to have an identifiable function. SWS (stages 3 and 4) seems to be where the restorative effects of sleep are concentrated. REM sleep has been linked to memory and learning, though the mechanisms are not clear. Finally, stage 2 seems at first blush to be mostly filler, though it is possible to argue from the results of a couple of long term sleep reduction experiments that it’s needed for some reason.

Since each of these sleep stages is characterized by a specific range of frequencies in brain activity, various products exist which claim to stimulate that particular frequency of brain activity, and therefore preferentially drive a particular stage of sleep. I haven’t used any of these products extensively, and I haven’t yet read the relevant research to know if they actually work as advertised. If they do work, the implications for hypnotecture are significant.

Since the different sleep stages seem to yield different benefits, if one could influence which stages happen when, the potential for proactive sleep design is obvious. I plan to report on some experiments along these lines in future posts.


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