The yin and yang of sleep and attention

January 18, 2016
The yin and yang of sleep and attention
Yin Yang symbol. Credit: Ms Leonie Kirszenblat

Being able to pay attention during the day relies on doing the exact opposite at night, according to University of Queensland scientists.

Building on previous studies, the Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) team has developed new ideas on how sleep and might be related, and may have even co-evolved to regulate each other, much like yin and yang.

PhD student Ms Leonie Kirszenblat, who is researching fruit flies, said that sleep served several distinct functions that may have evolved as brains became more complex.

"In animals with simple nervous systems, for example nematodes, sleep-like states are triggered during developmental stages like moulting, or by environmental stress, such as high temperatures," she said.

"However in animals with more complex nervous systems, including insects and mammals, sleep is not simply tied to development or stress but is an everyday occurrence that is needed to support cognitive functions such as ."

Ms Kirszenblat said that to understand the functions of sleep, we need to get clues from studies in different animals.

"Studies in different animals suggest that tasks requiring more attention lead to a greater need for sleep and increased sleep intensity."

She said that since sleep and attention seemed to have mutual effects on each other, they appeared to be complementary like the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy, in which contrary forces combine to create harmony.

Ms Kirszenblat's PhD supervisor, Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen, said sleep and attention both allowed the brain to ignore irrelevant information, and could use similar brain mechanisms to do this.

"This is a revolutionary way of thinking about how the brain works during sleep and wakefulness," he said.

"Although and attention seem like opposite states, they both essentially help an animal to ignore the outside world."

The paper is online in the journal Trends in Neuroscience.

Explore further: The fruit fly may know it's bugging you

More information: Leonie Kirszenblat et al. The Yin and Yang of Sleep and Attention, Trends in Neurosciences (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.tins.2015.10.001

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Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
"However in animals with more complex nervous systems, including insects and mammals, sleep is not simply tied to development or stress but is an everyday occurrence that is needed to support cognitive functions such as selective attention."

I do believe she is admitting "awareness"...
3.5 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2016
Awareness is not the same thing as Learning and Memory.
Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (1) Jan 18, 2016
yeah, but...
awareness and consciously directing that Learning and memory to insure survival - is...:-)
1.3 / 5 (3) Jan 19, 2016
Circular argument.

I don't know why awareness is so important to animal rights interests. You can argue purely from a POV of what your treating and organism a particular way makes you without divining their awareness. I don't think flies have awareness, but I don't want my kid being the king of person that likes pulling their wings off. Gandhi wasn't so much against eating meat because of cruelty so much as that he believed it is how violence first enters our lives and becomes banal.
not rated yet Jan 21, 2016
the yin and yang of Chinese philosophy, in which contrary forces combine to create harmony.

It's actually a philosophical statement of the interconnectedness of everything. It doesn't carry a value-judgement in the sense of the word "harmony", and neither is it about contrary forces. Yin is not against yang any more than gravity is against levity - that's just a retcon of Buddhist/Daoist philosophy as seen from the Christian point of view which emphasizes the duality of good and bad in everything. Everything is a battle between the forces of good and evil.

In the proper way of interpreting yin and yang, they do not oppose - they define each other. The good implies the bad, up implies down, left implies right, black implies white, and vice versa.

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