Keeping a cool head could be the answer to a good night’s sleep

Posted on June 14, 2011


It still surprises me that many people do not realise that we are classified in the mammalian order Primates. Only last week I had a colleague raise his eyebrows once he was given this nugget of information. He’d scampered over to quizzed me about my new career path after it was mentioned during some gossip by the water-cooler in the newsroom.

Primates comes from the Latin meaning first rank – it should really be pronounced: PREE-MAR-TEZ. It includes prosimians (lemurs, lorises, galagos, tarsiers and the aye-aye) and anthropoids (monkeys and apes as well as humans). Most scientists will refer to our closest relatives as non-human primates.

I have a day off today and while this primate had planned to get up early and seize the day, it just hasn’t happened.  I’ve been having difficulty sleeping. I thought I was the World’s Best Sleeper. Like the 1980’s Martini Rosso ad, my sleep motto was: anytime; any place; anywhere. But this has been challenged in recent days and I have now found myself getting ‘sleep envy’. As The Northerner’s head hits the pillow I can almost hear him drifting off while and I’m left wide awake, tossing and turning.

Researchers in the States say they have found a possible answer to aid sleep. In a study they found by lowering the temperature of the brain, it slows down its activity and therefore helps you relax in order to sleep. So how on earth do you cool down your brain? It’s not like it’s a kitchen appliance that can be turned down to gas mark five.

There's nothing like a good night's kip

Scientists gave troubled sleepers a special cap which contained tubes of cold water to wear. Already I’m imagining a showercap/mini-water bed encasing their heads. Joking aside, the results showed that those who suffer from sleep deprivation fell asleep more quickly and they also had a restful night. This has given new hope to insomniacs who for years have been taking a smorgasboard of pills to guarantee some shut-eye.

Dr Eric Nofzinger of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who led the study, said: “The most significant finding from this study is that we can have a beneficial impact on the sleep of insomnia patients via a safe, non-pharmaceutical mechanism that can be made widely available for home use by insomnia sufferers.”

These findings will be presented at a meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies (APSS) in Minneapolis this week. Delegates are expected to be told that metabolism in an area of the brain known as the frontal cortex slows down while falling asleep. But the process increases in insomniacs.

I am not going to be designing my own version of this cap to wear in bed because I can hear the mickey-taking from the Northerner now. I’m hoping this is just a blip in my sleeping pattern and I will reclaim my World’s Best title very soon.

As we’re on the subject of heat and what it does to our brains. I want to drawn your attention to a video clip that the Northerner showed me yesterday. It shows different people from around the world doing the same experiment and it’s been watched by more than 16-million people on a French news website.

Uncooked popcorn seeds are placed on a table surrounded by several mobile phones. The phones are dialled simultaneously. Watch what happens to the seeds!! It certainly gives you food for thought, yes quite literally, if that can happen to a seed, what on earth is it doing to the temperature of our brains? Maybe I will think about making that cap after all.

Here’s the clip on You-Tube.