Why am I a light sleeper?

I live on 1st Ave in New York. Besides being the main taxi route for getting uptown, it is also know as “hospital row”. Let’s just say there a few sirens… every six minutes. Jeannie sleeps like a log. Me, less so. What’s the difference?

Sleep researchers from Harvard Medical School performed a slightly torturous experiment on 12 healthy volunteers.

…The sleepers were then exposed to a steady stream of auditory assaults. Each sound — whether it was a phone ringing, an animated conversation, or a jet engine — would be played quietly at first, and then gradually cranked up until the patients’ brain waves showed a disruption to the sleep pattern. After a few seconds of quiet, the researchers cued up the next sound and the process began again.

The results showed that patients with more frequent sleep spindles were better able to tolerate noise; it took higher-decibel sounds to disrupt their sleep patterns.

That is Wired science.

Spindles appear to be bursts of brain wave activity. This finding would be more useful to me if science also knew what spindles do, what causes spindles, and if they could be changed. But I’ll take what I can get.

In the meantime, the more obvious answer to my problem is, “don’t live on 1st Avenue”. Ah, but the price I’ll pay for rent control…

(I’d like to throw in a caveat: 12 research subjects? Why do things like this get published? Why do I even blog about them?)

7 thoughts on “Why am I a light sleeper?

  1. Cognitive psychology studies frequently have sample sizes this small because the time and money needed for fMRIs, sleep labs, etc. is astronomical. I asked a cognitive psychologist about this once and received the response “An effect’s an effect, right?”

  2. It gets published because some medical interventions cost too much to have a large number of participants. 12 isn’t an unreasonably small number in that context.

  3. Hi Chris,
    I’m with Andrew – earplugs are the answer. After years and years and years of light (and hence interrupted) sleep, I now carry ear plugs pretty much everywhere I go that I’m likely to need some sleep. The result has revolutionised my world.