Adventures in Ethics and Science

Younger offspring: Mom? I have a question.

Dr. Free-Ride: OK.

Younger offspring: If I got up really early –

Dr. Free-Ride: I hope you won’t.


Younger offspring: No, I won’t, but if I got up really early, way before it’s time to wake up, like, midnight, and I tried to open my eyes and wake up, would I not be able to because my nerves are tired?

Dr. Free-Ride: Hmmm.

Younger offspring: Because I think if I decided to wake up at midnight I wouldn’t be able to. I won’t be able to open my eyes or get out of bed.

Dr. Free-Ride: I think you might be right about that. If your body needs sleep, it needs sleep. And your sleepy body might not let you disturb that sleep through sheer force of will.

Younger offspring: Would I not be able to open my eyes or get out of bed because my nerves are too tired?

Dr. Free-Ride: I don’t know that it would be your nerves specifically. I guess if you’re unconscious it’s part of your brain that’s doing the sleeping. But maybe the purpose of that is as much to do with the rest of your body as your brain.

Younger offspring: But the brain is what lets me dream when I’m asleep, right?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes.

Younger offspring: So it would be doing stuff when I tried to wake up.

Dr. Free-Ride: You might even be having a dream that you had woken up but didn’t have the power to open your eyes or move your arms or legs.

Younger offspring: If it’s not that my nerves are too tired, why can’t I just wake myself up in the middle of the night?

Dr. Free-Ride: I guess when the body needs down-time, to make repairs or just take a break, it needs the down-time. It might not matter how much you want to be awake — if your body needs to sleep, it will sleep. Sometimes you can see this happen when people fall asleep in class.

Younger offspring: (shocked) They do?

Dr. Free-Ride: Yes, sometimes. I guess school is interesting enough for you and your classmates that none of you do that.

Younger offspring: Have you?

Dr. Free-Ride: Umm, maybe once or twice I’ve almost fallen asleep in a class.

Younger offspring: What class?

Dr. Free-Ride: I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with the class, that it was only because I hadn’t gotten enough sleep and my body needed rest right away, since all of the classes I took were really interesting.

Younger offspring: You should have gotten more sleep at bedtime.

Dr. Free-Ride: I might say the same thing to you.

Younger offspring: But, do you think this would be a good science question for the sprog blog?

Comments

  1. #1 arvind
    July 30, 2010

    Awww…budding neuroscientist!! :-)

  2. #2 Art
    July 30, 2010

    Playing with the army and sleep deprivation I can’t say we ever got to the point where a person absolutely couldn’t wake up. Ive seen, been, so tired that it was common to see people asleep leaning against a tree or even asleep while on an extended march. But say their name, and whack them around the head and shoulders, and you always get a reaction and some move in the general direction of ‘awake’.

    I also note that ‘awake’ may not always be what we normally see. I’ve lost hours of time and been told I was functioning quite well but I have no recollection of being awake or of what I was doing.

    My speculation, completely unfounded in science, is that you can always ‘wake up’ in the sense that when asleep you can always make some progress toward wakefulness. In a deep paralytic stage of sleep it is more difficult to start waking up but give sufficient inputs, like the sergeant dumping a bucket of ice-water on you, you do start waking up.

    Startled awake that way it may be come time before you come to yourself and in the mean time there is an not entirely unpleasant zombie-like state where you can stand and walk but you have no understanding of what is going on. In such a state you can move the person by dragging them from place to place. They can walk and jog, even run a bit, but they would simply stand there if left alone and didn’t show any capacity to reason or avoid obstacles. If you don’t manhandle them around trees they tend to walk into them. Such a state can last from a minute or two to perhaps ten.

    Coming-to from such a state is quite strange. Imagine running while asleep and while still running slowly becoming aware that your not running in a dream. And finding out that someone forgot to steer you around a few trees and you wake up to your body but worse for wear.

    Ah … good times.

  3. #3 $0.01
    July 30, 2010

    Oh, Dr. Free-Ride, you DO lie to your offspring! Really?! All your classes were interesting?! I can’t believe that. I do love that Y.O. is surprised about people falling asleep in class (NOT your classes!).
    My own E.O. often wakes up and ignores all messages from nerves/body/brain/dreamland about being tired; it is not unusual for me to notice her light on at 00-dark-thirty– she is reading, sometimes more than one book at a time. Unfortunately, sometimes even when the body needs sleep, it cannot overcome a struggle with the brain when it needs entertainment and/or enlightenment.
    In my own current sleep-deprived state, I can’t possibly make any coherent points in this post (but I did finish reading the Funny Times and Flight Explorer Vol. I last night before bed!).

  4. #4 Jude
    July 30, 2010

    If I want to take a 20 minute nap, I tell myself that and wake up usually right on 20 minutes, but sometimes 5 minutes before. My internal alarm clock works up to 8 hours from the time I tell it to wake me up, and unless I’m truly exhausted, it works reliably. I set the physical alarm clock anyway if I have something important to do (just in case). Although I can’t find the blog post, John Scalzi wrote once on Whatever that he can do the same thing.

  5. #5 et
    July 31, 2010

    ..and I never (insert: did/used unprotected sex, drugs, too much alcohol, risky behavior) because I was so busy with all of the really interesting classes I took …

    If you don’t watch out you’ll loose credibility fast

  6. #6 Janet D. Stemwedel
    July 31, 2010

    $0.01 @3/et @5: As it happens, I was using what my kids recognize as my “sarcastic” voice when I claimed that all of my classes were interesting.

    Although, to be fair, they really were more interesting than many classes of which I’ve heard reports, and my classroom nodding was nearly always primarily due to too little sleep, rather than too little classroom excitement.

    On balance, I’m not sure what it says about my parenting that I have a recognizable “sarcastic” voice. I’m sure my kids will tell me in the next decade or two.

  7. #7 stripey_cat
    August 1, 2010

    The only time I fell asleep in class (well, in a two-student tutorial actually) was when I’d pulled two consecutive all-nighters to get essays done, then stayed up at a party all night on May Eve. May Morning, gently hung over, after about 75 hours without sleep, I actually dozed off in my tutor’s nice, warm office (damn armchairs!).

    On an unrelated note, in my own experience it can sometimes be very difficult to wake young children. The scary ones are when you can get them up and going, but they’re still dreaming (I’ve had to dodge fists more times than I care to remember at that point); almost equally alarming are the ones who are ragdoll limp no matter what you do – I tried bugle calls and cold showers on my brother as a toddler, and neither worked reliably (bugle calls on the hung-over teenager were another matter altogether, and utterly hilarious provided I was out of the house by the time he collected himself); we could get him dressed, breakfasted, and into the car, without waking him.

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