Author: Richard Wiseman
ISBN: 13: 978-1497356443
APA Style Citation
Wiseman, R. (2014). Night School: The Life-Changing Science of Sleep. London: MacMillan.
Richard Wiseman is back with another amazing book full of exciting activities and examples applicable for use in the psychology classroom. For more from Wiseman, visit the 2014 post on The As If Principle. We also strongly recommend any of Wiseman’s books as a source of ideas for classroom demonstrations including 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change A Lot and Quirkology: the Curious Science of Everyday Lives. His latest book, Night School: Wake up to the Power of Sleep, is a tour through the unit on states of consciousness that includes historic and current research on topics including sleep-wake disorders, sleep cycles, polysomnograms (sleep studies), dreams, lucid dreaming, hypnotic susceptibility, sleep theories, and the impact of sleep on learning and memory. Research consistently indicates that good sleep habits can improve learning, control weight, improve creativity, and increase productivity. Lack of sleep is however related to increased accident risk, weight gain, impaired learning, inefficiency, and a variety of mental and physical illnesses. This book provides insight into numerous questions students have about sleep and sleep related phenomena such as the content of dreams of blind individuals, the purpose of dreams, color vs. black and white dreams, the impact of sleep deprivation, the mysteries of sleep walking, whether you can learn while sleeping, and more. Each chapter includes self-tests and demonstrations, which readily translate into engaging classroom activities.
The book begins with the history of sleep science and the fascinating story of how after a near death experience involving a cannon, Dr. Hans Berger was inspired to study the possibility of telepathy. His telepathy research, although unsuccessful ultimately led to the construction of the first fully functioning electroencephalogram (EEG) machine. Early sleep researchers unraveled many of the mysteries surrounding sleep using the EEG, including REM, the sleep cycle, and circadian rhythms. Students can take and score a quick and simple test to determine their chronotype (late chronotype/night owl v. early chronotype/lark). Wiseman expands on the real life consequences for individuals based on their chronotype and the importance of circadian rhythms. This chapter also explains the biology of jet leg and provides tips for overcoming this exhausting condition.
Wiseman shares the story of Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, and how the invention of artificial light profoundly impacted sleep patterns. One third of adults are sleep deprived and children and teenagers are often impacted as well. This worldwide problem can potentially be traced back to the invention of electricity according to Wiseman because prior to the advent of artificial light most people went to bed earlier because it was too difficult to work in the dark. The long history of scientific research related to sleep deprivation is outlined including the famous study of American disc jockey Peter Tripp who attempted to stay awake for eight days in a glass enclosed studio in New York’s Times Square. The book discusses common sleep-wake disorders related to problems falling or staying asleep (insomnia) or problems related to excessive sleep (hypersomnia) as well as the very rare condition known as fatal familial insomnia (FFI). Wiseman saw firsthand the problems associated with sleep deprivation while working on the British reality television show Shattered, which involved ten contestants attempting to survive performance challenges while remaining awake for seven days. The author highlights the implications of sleep deprivation by describing the influence of sleep deprivation on several high profile accidents including the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and the Challenger space shuttle crash. Additionally, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration believes that drowsy driving is the cause of more than 100,000 road accidents per year, 1,500 of which involve fatalities. Numerous research studies highlight the impact of sleep deprivation on job performance and overall health. Negative health consequences associated with sleep loss include increased risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Lack of sleep deprives the body of melatonin which has been linked to lowering blood pressure and preventing heart attacks and strokes. Melatonin also limits the production of hormones which in high levels are related to Cancer. The book examines the specific biological factors that lead to the connection between sleep loss and obesity. Even short term sleep deprivation leads to a significant increase in the amount of the hormone ghrelin (which stimulates hunger) and a decrease in the production of the hormone leptin (which indicates fullness). Ultimately, these hormone changes in research subjects motivated them to eat more by stimulating their hunger drive, but left them less full afterwards. A lack of sleep also has a major impact on one’s psychological well being and there is a strong correlation between mental illnesses and sleep disturbances. Depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADHD and many other mental illnesses are strongly correlated with sleep loss. The provided activity in chapter two is a short test that assesses the quality of your current sleep habits. The chapters that follow offer research based tips for improving your score.
Because there are many factors that can make falling or staying asleep difficult there are no easy answers, but Wiseman polled numerous “super sleepers” and combined their responses with research based methods to outline various ways to improve sleep each night and achieve the benefits of quality rest. The facial feedback hypothesis for example can help someone fall asleep. Just as smiling can lead to happiness, yawning and acting as if you are tired can lead to sleepiness. One of the key factors stressed by the author is the evidence for how exposure to light in the bedroom impact sleeps. Of particular interest for teenagers whose circadian rhythms already make it difficult to fall asleep early enough to get enough rest for school is the impact of light waves emitted by electronic devices. Computer screens, smart phones, flat screen televisions, LED lighting, and tablets all release light waves from the blue end of the visible spectrum. Blue light which is typical of early morning signals the brain that it is not time for rest and can impact melatonin production. Research shows that even one hour of exposure to bright light at night reduces melatonin to levels typical of daytime, which make it very difficult to induce sleep.
In a section titled Sleep-learning and Power Naps the relationship between sleep and learning is examined for limitations and possibilities. While there is no reliable scientific evidence to indicate that it is possible to learn another language or some other complex skill while sleeping, adequate sleep does improve memory retention and as such impacts learning. Research has revealed a variety of tips for getting the greatest benefit from sleep after learning a new task. For example, it has been found that for optimal retention, the best time to go to sleep is five hours after a training session. In others words do not practice, rehearse, or train directly before heading to sleep. Not the most practical tip for high school students! Also, it is often best for learning to get more sleep than you actually require. Elite athletes have been shown to have significant performance gains when they had ten hours each night for several weeks. Stanford swimmers reduced their average turn times by a tenth of a second, tennis players increased serving accuracy, and basketball players improved their free throw percentages by almost ten percent. During studies in which athletes consistently got ten hours of sleep per night, many achieved new personal bests and broke long- standing records.
The book also spends a considerable time discussing the long history of the investigation of dreams as a way to predict the future, or as a source of important symbols that have special meaning. The history of dreams is examined from ancient Greek sleep sanctuaries to the theories of Sigmund Freud. Night school highlights the vast body of research on dreams including how often, and about which topics most individuals dream. The book provides detailed explanations of a variety of dream theories and the research related to each theory. The text discusses Freudian dream therapy, cognitive problem solving theory, and the activation synthesis model. Based on his research Wiseman believes that dreams “have the power to improve your life and change the world”. The phenomenon of hypnosis, which is not dreaming, is also discussed at length. There is also a discussion on lucid dreams and specific methods that can be used to prevent nightmares. The book ends with12 common myths related to sleep and a list of tips for improving sleep quality.
Other Related Resources
Book Website - The website for the book Night School which includes several short videos, a test for sleep deprivation, and music scientifically designed to help you fall asleep.
Smart Phones and Sleep – These three videos explains how the blue light emitted from cell phones, tablets, computer screens, and flat screen televisions send signals to the brain (suprachiasmatic nucleus) to stay awake and prevent individuals from experiencing quality sleep.
DreamOn – The app designed to help individuals influence their own dreams. The app allows you to select a choice for your dream, monitors your movement during the night, and plays a themed soundscape at the optimal moment within your sleep cycle. Be a part of the world’s largest dream experiment! The app also includes a smart alarm clock, an opportunity to share your anonymous dream data with researchers who are looking for dream patterns, themed dream soundscapes, and lucid dreaming techniques. The app has over 40 themed soundscapes to choose from that can influence dreams including everything from a peaceful garden to a ride on the Space Shuttle.
Shattered – The link that follows is to the first episode of a 2004 British reality television show that challenged contestants to stay awake for seven days in a competition for £100,000. For safety reasons the show did allow the contestants to sleep for one hour per day during the competition. During the show the contestants were also put through a variety of challenges to test their performance ability.
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Chronotype (early v. late)
Circadian timing disorder
Psychoanalytic dream analysis (manifest and latent content)
Hypnosis and hypnotic susceptibility
REM sleep behavior disorder
Sleep stages (REM and NREM)
Sleep (night) terrors