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Sleep, Tetris, Memory and the Brain

Posted Mar 24 2008 12:00am

As part of our ongoing , we are honored to present today this excellent article by Dr. Shannon Moffett, based on her illuminating and engaging book. Enjoy!

(and please go to sleep soon if you are reading this late Monday night).
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Two years ago I finished a book on the mind/brain, called The Three Pound Enigma: The Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock its MysteriesShannon Moffett-Three Pound Enigma . Each chapter profiles a leader in a different aspect of mind/brain research, from neurosurgery to zen Buddhism, from cognitive neuroscience to philosophy of mind. One of my subjects was Dr. Robert Stickgold, a zany, hyper-intelligent mensch of a Harvard sleep researcher. When I met him, I was in medical school and having a grand old time—I’d exacted an extension of my tenure beyond the customary four years, so I had enough time to write the book, do my coursework, and have a life. I was busy, but still got enough sleep, had time to exercise daily, and even went for dinner and a movie sometimes. Although I found Stickgold’s work interesting, there was a part of me that just didn’t get it.

Fast-forward to the present, when I am a resident in emergency medicine at a busy inner-city trauma center; I have two-year-old twins and a husband with a 60-hour-a-week job of his own. I do not exercise. I do not eat unless I can do something else productive at the same time, and even when I do get to sleep in my own bed, my slumber is fractured by the awakenings of two circadianly disparate toddlers. It seems to take me twice as long to “get” new concepts as it used to, and I never feel like I’m functioning at top speed. In short, I am a mess. And NOW I get what Stickgold’s work is all about, and understand that he is both quantifying and explaining exactly what I’m feeling.

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