The science of sleep: Part I

This post is gonna be about a passion of mine. Something I can indulge in anytime, anywhere, for any amount of time. Something I would choose over diamonds and Michelin restaurants. I now realise the punchline of this joke would have been better if the title hasn’t already disclosed that it’s gonna be around sleeping. Oh well.

Sleep, as mysterious as it is necessary, still puzzles scientists -- and they have been researching it for decades (and people have been sleeping for thousands of years). What exactly happens when we sleep? Why do we do it? Can we stop sleeping at all? What happens then? Got you curious enough? Then read on and find out how close we are to answering all of these questions.

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Neuroscience news block: Best of 2017

Ho-ho-ho! Look what Santa brought us here! This awesome neuroscience blog has awoken from the master thesis-induced hibernation and is ready to bring the wonder of neuroscientific discovery to the masses again! What a great present! (I know, you might have asked for a new laptop or a promotion. Talk it out with Santa, I’m doing what I can here).

As this year (thankfully) nears its end I sampled some of the most interesting and prominent neuroscience studies of 2017 to make you go whoa. Buckle up kiddos, this one is gonna be a handful!

 

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Neuroscience news block: sleepless brains eating themselves, Elon Musks’s wizard hat, a binge-eating flip switch and more.

A lot has happened in the neuroscience world while I was writing my term papers and suffering at the hands of my master thesis: Elon Musk, for one, launched a company aimed at merging human brain with AI, while more down-to-earth researchers showed how brain starts to obsessively clean itself due to lack of sleep, found a binge-eating flip switch and a possible reason for why adults have more cognitive control than teenagers.

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Neuroscience news block: mysterious giant neurons, neurobiology of being fun and LSD potency explained.

Neuroscientists did not sit idly by in the past month: while you were going about your business they discovered a giant neuron wrapping itself around the entire mouse brain, recognized the differences between experienced improv comedians and newbies struggling to be funny (apart from the obvious jokes quality) and took the first ever 3D image of LSD bound to a brain receptor.

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Autism and the brain.

Sheldon Cooper, BBC Sherlock and Abed from Community walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says “Is it gonna be a joke about media overusing the autism trope?”.
My awesome sense of humour aside, If there is a mental disorder overrepresented in the media then it’s (high-functioning) autism. The writers love themselves some genius socially awkward nerds solving unsolvable riddles and making ordinary people look adorably illogical. But how true is this stereotype? And what does autistic mean, if it’s not exactly Sheldon Cooper? Some people believe it equals the Rain Man-esque ability to count all matches in a box at one glance and others might think it means over-the top lack of social skills and having a huge bottle cap collection. Mostly, the reality is somewhere in between: autism is very broad (it’s called autistic spectrum disorder for a reason!) and no two diagnoses are the same. So let’s see what it really is and how the brain is involved.

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Wired this way: sexual orientation and gender in the brain.

Born this way? Chose this way? Despite what Westboro Baptist Church & Friends might preach there is evidence (even though pretty messy) that sexual orientation and gender identity are influenced by developmental differences in our brains. Activity, connectivity and structure of certain regions have been repeatedly shown to considerably differ between gay and straight people (insert a snarky joke about bisexual erasure) as well as cis- and transgenders.
But, as with so many things in neuroscience, it is yet not 100% clear in which way the connection goes -- did these neural differences predetermine who you like or did your experiences and behaviour gradually shaped these structures the way they are now? Still, a lot of scientists think these differences have been there there from the very beginning, influenced by hormonal or genetic factors. So let’s see, what do we know so far about how your brain (probably) tells you who to take home!

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Neuroscience methods and cool stuff you can do with it: Part Two.

Last time we talked about how to use fMRI for mind reading and what eye-tracking has to do with virtual reality; but what about methods enabling brainwave-controlled machines, you might ask? What about techniques allowing us to understand mental diseases on molecular level? (or you might not ask but I’m gonna talk about it anyway).

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