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A Neurological MOT

Another post about sleep? Guilty as charged, although this time, the focus is on the importance of movement. We have all seen the Internet videos of dogs and cats running in their sleep, with comments that accuse the dreamers of chasing rabbits or having a nightmare. As fun as this is to watch, it seems that there is a particularly important process at work as we sleep. Not only does our eight hours a night allow for the flushing of metabolic toxins from our grey matter, it also permits a re-calibration of our muscle connections – a nightly MOT of sorts.

Most of us know of REM, or Rapid Eye Movement sleep, as the period during which most of us are dreaming. These sessions occur at irregular intervals during the night, with the rest of our bodies switched off in a process called muscle atonia. This allows us to play out our wildest fantasies and dreams, usually without the physical accompaniment.

One per cent of us, however, regularly sleepwalk. Some go as far as performing daily rituals, such as making tea or turning on the television while unconscious. Three quarters of us, will mumble or talk in our sleep and statistically speaking, we may all experience a nightly wander at some point in our lives.

Sleep scientists are now discovering all sorts of hidden benefits to quality slumber. Even subtle twitches and murmurs are proving highly advantageous to our bodies. Psychologist Antonio Zadre, of Montreal University, and his colleagues, suggest that movements during dream sleep serve a fundamental purpose. More than the fixing of memories or the flushing of toxins, sleep allows us to ping the neural pathways to our motor muscles, strengthening our coordination and staving off cognitive decline.

Neurologist, Isabelle Arnulf, from Pierre and Marie Curie University, Paris, studied nineteen regular sleepwalkers with her team. Before sleep, walkers were taught a simple game involving touching blocks positioned around their bodies. One of the patients, mid-dream, opened her eyes and tapped the blocks as though playing the game. Work at the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory in Montreal, also suggests that rather than dreams solely directing our movements, the same could be said of the reverse. One patient, while sleeping, had a pressure cuff inflated on his legs. Upon waking, he reported a dream about a cat jumping onto his lap.

Those who experience traumatic and violent dreams aside, these glimpses into the workings of our sub-conscious mind, fascinate me. My physical and mental faculties are noticeably impaired following just one night of poor sleep. More than that, and I am fit for nothing. With the constant demands of our permanently switched on lives, and the increasing hours of what is coined, an acceptable working week, I fear for the health of our nation.

When did it become sensible and applauded by bosses, to expect the workforce to continue battling beyond a state of exhaustion? I see social media posts, where victims brag about how many hours are in their average working week. How is it that instead of optimal work output, driven by well rested, healthy staff, there is a preference for sub-standard work performed by shattered teams? Longer hours do not equate to better performance.

Surely there has to be another way to climb to the top of your chosen profession, other than driving yourself until sleep deprivation erodes all brain function. It seems to me that there is one very obvious way to curb the national increase in neurological disorders: Gather together and collectively tell bosses to get stuffed, then rejoice in some restorative shut eye.

Sam Nash is the author of the sci-fi conspiracy thriller, The Aurora Mandate. Release date TBA. You can find her at or on Twitter @samnashauthor or

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