Getting to sleep

From: Bruce Edmonds (
Date: Wed Sep 26 2001 - 09:02:35 BST

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    From: Bruce Edmonds <>
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    Last night I had the following experience. It happens to me about four
    times a year. From talking to others I gather it is quite common. It
    raises interesting questions about how memes inhabit brains (or brains
    deal with memes).

    I was tired but had to do some work, so when I went to bed I was
    "over-tired". The same thoughts kept going round my head repetitively
    and I could not get to sleep. The solution is to get up, have a warm
    drink and read for 15-30 minutes and then return to bed. One can then
    sleep. The repetitive thoughts can be worries but need not be (in this
    case they appeared to be simply a catchy tune).

    This raises several questions:

    1. Why does this repetition happen when one is over-tired?

    Is there some active boredom mechanism that usually prevents such
    repetition when properly awake? It is notable that (when I remember
    them) my dreams are not usually repetitive like this. This suggests to
    me that boredom is an active ability that requires some 'energy' (either
    asleep or awake).

    2. Why does this repetition apparently stop one going to sleep?

    This is more difficult and puzzling. What is it about this 'fugue'
    state of mind that prevents the transition to sleep? One would have
    thought that such endless repetition combined with palpable fatigue
    would be ideal sleep inducers, but experience tells me that this state
    will persist for many hours preventing sleep. Does the brain 'mistake'
    this repetition for a state of worry and hence bar sleep as a sort of
    protective mechanism - a sort of "did I remember to stoke the fire to
    keep the predators away" mechanism?

    3. Why does the 'cure' work?

    Two parts of an answer: the warm drink temporarily heightens the blood
    sugar level so we have the energy to avoid the repetitive 'meme'; the
    book provides displacement thoughts that interest the brain. But why
    does not the content of the book echo around one's brain in the same

    A few connected observations and further questions:

    People will sometimes experience a similar phenomena with, for example,
    tunes when not tired (especially, it seems children). Does this mean
    that children are just less bored or have not yet learned to how be

    The tired 'fugue' state happens more often when I work late, rather than
    read late. What is the cognitive difference between working and
    reading? Reading a very boring book can send one rapidly to sleep.


    Bruce Edmonds,
    Centre for Policy Modelling,
    Manchester Metropolitan University, Aytoun Bldg.,
    Aytoun St., Manchester, M1 3GH. UK.
    Tel: +44 161 247 6479 Fax: +44 161 247 6802

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