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Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders

Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders

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Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders

Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders

Professor H. Craig Heller Ph.D.
Stanford University
Course No.  1942
Course No.  1942
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

For many of us, sleep is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For others, sleep represents a nightly struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, rest comfortably, and even remain safe until morning. But what is sleep exactly, and why must we do it every night?

Despite the fact that we spend about one-third of our lives in slumber, scientists still aren’t completely certain. Finding the function of sleep is one of the biggest—and most intriguing—challenges facing biologists today.

What is clear: Sleep is as essential to life as food and water. It impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, from our mood to the functioning of our organs, and it contributes to learning and memory, better performance at work, and a more healthy and productive wakeful life overall.

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For many of us, sleep is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For others, sleep represents a nightly struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, rest comfortably, and even remain safe until morning. But what is sleep exactly, and why must we do it every night?

Despite the fact that we spend about one-third of our lives in slumber, scientists still aren’t completely certain. Finding the function of sleep is one of the biggest—and most intriguing—challenges facing biologists today.

What is clear: Sleep is as essential to life as food and water. It impacts virtually every aspect of our lives, from our mood to the functioning of our organs, and it contributes to learning and memory, better performance at work, and a more healthy and productive wakeful life overall.

A lack of sleep impairs your cognitive abilities, exacerbates or leads to psychological problems, and leaves you vulnerable to a long list of chronic medical issues. And the consequences of too little sleep extend beyond the personal. From causing auto accidents to factoring into major disasters such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, sleep deprivation imposes a heavy toll on society.

Clearly, there’s tremendous value in studying sleep that goes far beyond mere fascination. Educating yourself on the subject may, without exaggeration, save your life or the life of someone you love. The frightening reality is that dire consequences can develop after only a few days of inadequate sleep.

Secrets of Sleep Science: From Dreams to Disorders is your opportunity to access groundbreaking research on the complex and enigmatic phenomenon of sleep, straight from a scientist at the forefront of the field. In these 24 engrossing lectures, award-winning Stanford University professor and researcher H. Craig Heller reveals how far neuroscientists and biologists have come on their quest to pinpoint the principal functions of sleep—which remain a matter of intense debate.

Understand Why Sleep Debts Must Be Paid

Early on in this course, you’ll learn that your brain forces you to fall asleep to repay an accumulated sleep deficit—no matter how dangerous the circumstances. You’ll also learn the myriad ways sleep loss is associated with increased risk for serious health problems such as

  • obesity,
  • diabetes,
  • depression, and
  • reduced resistance to infectious disease.

Backed by compelling scientific evidence, Professor Heller illuminates what happens in the sleeping brain all the way down to the cellular and molecular level. You’ll investigate what biological changes may be produced by wakefulness and reversed during sleep, in addition to

  • the catastrophic ways our circadian clocks can fail;
  • coping mechanisms for jet lag, shift work, and insomnia;
  • disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome;
  • parasomnias such as sleepwalking, night terrors, and sleep-related eating disorder; and
  • how proper “sleep hygiene” can help you improve your own quality of sleep.

You’ll also examine the critical role sleep plays in our capacity to form memories, and you’ll encounter astounding animal research that ranges from studies of aquatic mammals that sleep with half of their brains at a time to the deep sleep of hibernation in squirrels and bears.

Discover the Architecture of Sleep

Widespread interest in sleep goes back to ancient times, yet the study of sleep is relatively new. In fact, the first insights into the physiology of sleep didn’t occur until 1929, when the electroencephalograph was developed to monitor patterns of electrical activity in the brain.

As Professor Heller explains, these EEG recordings allowed scientists to identify REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM states that are the defining features of sleep. You’ll explore both REM and non-REM sleep in depth, including how they cycle throughout the night.

  • Non-REM sleep EEG recordings show a high-amplitude, slow-wave pattern indicating that large populations of neurons are firing in synchrony.
  • REM sleep, frequently called “dreaming sleep,” creates a low-amplitude, fast pattern similar to a waking EEG.

Then, using basic concepts of electricity, you’ll look at the cellular and molecular mechanisms of falling asleep, the many discrete brain structures involved in the control of sleep and wakefulness, and the homeostatic regulation that matches sleep intensity to need.

You’ll trace how your all-important circadian rhythms emerge shortly after birth but continue to change over the course of your lifetime, and you’ll get an introduction to the neuroanatomy and neurochemistry of sleep, including how medications and other factors influence sleep.

Secrets of Sleep Science also features a thought-provoking lecture on the physiology of what may be the least-understood aspect of sleep: dreaming. Taking into consideration the Freudian and Jungian theories on the topic as well as the latest research, you’ll sift through

  • the possible functions of dreams;
  • the notion that dreams hold meaning;
  • anecdotal evidence suggesting dreams inspire creativity;
  • why you only sometimes remember your dreams; and
  • why dream amnesia may be crucial to maintaining mental health.

Why Sleep Goes Awry

From sleepy sickness to the rare fatal familial insomnia, sleep pathologies and disorders are among the most fascinating—and often heartbreaking—topics you’ll cover in Secrets of Sleep Science. You may find the information on identifying and treating sleep apnea of particular value, as you or your partner may snore and repeatedly struggle to breathe during sleep without even realizing it.

Professor Heller also offers simple behavioral methods to conquer bouts of insomnia and outlines possible treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, which frequently involves incessant, extreme nightmares that feel all too real.

In the latter half of the course, you’ll get the opportunity to learn about the professor’s own research, which suggests a promising link between sleep-related systems and the cognitive impairment associated with Down syndrome.

A Remarkable Learning Experience

Professor Heller’s first-hand experiments, astute analysis, and obvious passion for the study of sleep make him the ideal guide for this riveting subject. Not only does he elucidate the most up-to-date findings and ideas this field has to offer, but, as a researcher and veteran educator, he possesses the experience and authority to offer his own expert interpretations.

Both seasoned students of biology and those with a casual appreciation for science will find Secrets of Sleep Science filled with astonishing insights. If you’ve ever wondered why we say “sleep like a baby”; why adolescents find it so hard to get up for school; or why your grandfather dozes in his chair during the day but complains of being unable to sleep at night; this is the course for you.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    Sweet Sleep—Essential for a Healthy Life
    Professor Heller introduces you to the many consequences of short or disrupted sleep, along with accounts of medical mistakes and large-scale disasters likely to have occurred due to sleep deprivation. Contemplate our “National Sleep Deficit” and learn the professor’s hypothesis for the purpose of sleep, which science has yet to fully explain. x
  • 2
    What Is Sleep?
    Given the long-standing interest in sleep, why is the science of sleep so relatively new? As you identify the defining features of sleep as a foundation for later lectures, you explore the tools researchers use to study sleep patterns and what experiments have taught us about the key characteristics of REM and non-REM sleep, including dreams. x
  • 3
    Sleep across the Night
    Examine hypnograms that show how the various stages of REM and non-REM sleep cycle throughout the night. Then, find out how the REM and non-REM sleep states relate, how they change throughout the sleep phase, and why the brain may create changes in sleep intensity to help you “pay back” a sleep deficit. x
  • 4
    Sleep across the Lifespan
    Is there a biological basis for the sleep changes that commonly occur over a person’s lifespan? Learn how your brain’s circadian rhythms regulate sleep, then compare the sleep patterns of precocial and altricial species. Discover the disorders that can impair the restorative quality of sleep and problems associated with sleeping too much. x
  • 5
    Who in the World Sleeps?
    There are thousands of animal species in the world. Do they all have the same need to sleep as we do? Learn the three basic characteristics of sleep that can generally be applied to animals, then investigate the sleep patterns of various species, including migratory birds, arthropods, monotremes, and marine mammals that are able to sleep on only one side of their brains at a time. x
  • 6
    The Timing of Sleep
    In the first of two lectures on understanding the clock in your brain and how it controls virtually every aspect of physiology and behavior, you’ll learn the essential characteristics of circadian rhythms and how working against your clock can result in health and performance problems. Investigate phase advances and delays related to jet lag and shift work. x
  • 7
    The Wheels of the Circadian Clock
    As you turn to the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for the characteristics of circadian rhythms, the professor offers a basic lesson in molecular genetics before discussing “clock genes” and how they can constitute a negative feedback system with a delay in the feedback loop. x
  • 8
    The Deep Sleep of Hibernators
    Hibernation is an adaptation that enables some warm-blooded animals to turn down their thermostats for spans of hours to months in an effort to conserve energy. In the first of two lectures that explore the neural systems that control sleep and wakefulness, investigate the evolutionary explanations for and mechanisms of hibernation in squirrels and bears, as well as daily torpor in birds. x
  • 9
    The Neuroanatomy and Neurochemistry of Sleep
    Many discrete structures in the brain are involved in the control of sleep and wakefulness. Delve into neuroanatomy and neurochemistry, which are necessary to understand how and why we sleep, and how medications and other factors influence sleep. Grasp the significance of discoveries by Giuseppe Moruzzi, Constantin von Economo, and others through an in-depth examination of sleep pathologies. x
  • 10
    The Neurophysiology of Sleep
    Go a step further in discovering the cellular function of non-REM sleep by identifying the cellular changes produced by wakefulness and reversed during sleep, and investigating the processes underlying the generation of slow-wave activity on the EEG. Learn about the fundamental principles of electrical circuits as you explore how a neuron functions like a tiny battery. x
  • 11
    Sleep Disorders—Narcolepsy
    Narcolepsy is an incurable neurological disorder characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness, disrupted nighttime sleep, bizarre hallucinations at sleep onset, and cataplexy. Analyze research exploring the possibility of a genetic component to this disorder in humans and canines, and learn what medications and other treatments are available to manage it. x
  • 12
    The Strange World of Dreams
    What are dreams and what do they mean? Examine Freudian-Jungian psychoanalytic theory and methods relating to the unconscious as well as scientific hypotheses for the occurrence of dreams. Consider the therapeutic potential of “lucid dreaming” for treating nightmares in post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers and the possibility that dreaming may enhance our ability to be creative. x
  • 13
    Functions of Sleep—Fueling the Brain
    In the first of several lectures that explore hypotheses on the function of sleep, focus on the idea that sleep is for the restoration of brain energy reserves that are depleted during periods of wakefulness. Analyze the relationship between sleep and glycogen metabolism, as well as the molecule adenosine. x
  • 14
    The Timing and Function of REM Sleep
    Why do non-REM and REM cycle, with non-REM always first? Why is non-REM sleep deeper early in the night? Delve into the fundamental relationship between non-REM and REM and question the common assumption that the need for sleep builds during wakefulness. Extend your analysis into a hypothesis about the basic function of REM sleep. x
  • 15
    Sleep and Learning—Procedural Memory
    In studying the interactions between sleep and the stages of procedural memory—including encoding, consolidation, stabilization, reactivation, and reconsolidation—you’ll focus on experiments that seek to identify which type of sleep contributes to the consolidation of procedural memories and whether this effect can be exploited to maximize learning. x
  • 16
    Sleep and Declarative Memory
    Turn now to declarative memory and the ways that sleep impacts our capacity to form and integrate conscious memories and improves our ability to use the facts we remember. Explore hypotheses about memory consolidation, reactivation, and reconsolidation by analyzing a working model of two-step memory processes involving the hippocampus and cortex. x
  • 17
    Sleep and Memory in Animals
    For both humans and animals, sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation and therefore, learning. Focus on evidence that sleep promotes structural changes in the nervous system, then move on to the neurophysiological processes of memory consolidation. Conclude by looking at factors that can disrupt the sleep-related functions required for learning and memory. x
  • 18
    Sleep and Learning Disability
    Using your understanding of how sleep is critically involved in learning and memory, explore whether an underlying cause for learning disabilities may be related to sleep systems or mechanisms, and whether they offer a route to a therapy. Consider the potential for improving learning and memory in individuals with Down syndrome, specifically. x
  • 19
    When You Cannot Sleep—Insomnia
    Move on from lectures exploring how we “sleep to learn” to the first of several lectures concerned with “learning to sleep.” Differentiate between primary and secondary insomnias as you identify some of the major causes of sleep disruption, and confront the consequences suffered by those who delay sleep—both intentionally and unintentionally. x
  • 20
    Sleep Apnea
    Sleep apnea is a major cause of insomnia, yet it’s often misdiagnosed. First, touch on central sleep apnea in infants and sudden infant death syndrome, then delve into the causes, signs, consequences, and treatments associated with obstructive sleep apnea—the most common form of the disorder in adults. x
  • 21
    Behavior during Sleep—Parasomnias
    Make sense of various types of parasomnias—undesirable behaviors or phenomena that occur predominantly or exclusively during sleep—including sleep walking, sleep-related eating disorder, night terrors, periodic limb movement, sleep paralysis, and sexsomnia. Then, consider how the legal principle of mens rea applies to sleepwalkers who have allegedly committed heinous crimes. x
  • 22
    Sleep and the Rest of the Body
    Return to a question posed in the lecture on sleep in the animal kingdom: Why take the brain off-line during sleep if the function of sleep is not for the brain? Look at experiments studying the effects of sleep loss on rats as you investigate sleep’s role in a range of physiological processes. Then, see how shortened sleep contributes to obesity and immune system failure in humans. x
  • 23
    Improving Sleep
    How can you improve your quality of sleep? Start by delving into the efficacy and potential dangers of various pharmaceutical solutions to the problem of insomnia, including herbal remedies such as kava-kava and chamomile tea; barbiturates; benzodiazepines; caffeine; and amphetamines. Then, look at the nonpharmaceutical approaches of good sleep hygiene and cognitive behavioral therapy. x
  • 24
    Sleep in the Future and the Future of Sleep
    Will we ever fully comprehend the function of sleep? See how sleep and treatment for sleep problems might change in years to come, and consider how continuing progress in understanding sleep’s role in learning and memory processes may enhance education and hold therapeutic potential for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. x

Lecture Titles

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H. Craig Heller
Ph.D. H. Craig Heller
Stanford University
Dr. H. Craig Heller is the Lorry I. Lokey/Business Wire Professor of Biological Sciences and Human Biology at Stanford University. He earned his Ph.D. in Biology from Yale University. Over the past three to four decades, virtually all biology undergraduates at Stanford have learned physiology from Professor Heller. In recognition of his outstanding performance, he received the Walter J. Gores Award for excellence in teaching and the Kenneth M. Cuthbertson Award for exceptional contributions to Stanford University. The coauthor of more than 200 peer-reviewed research papers, Professor Heller incorporates a wide range of topics into his research, including thermoregulation, hibernation, circadian rhythms, sleep, learning and memory, and human physical performance. His current focus is on the role of sleep and circadian rhythms in learning and memory as applied to the development of therapies for the learning disabilities associated with Down syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Heller's laboratory is also dedicated to developing technologies for the efficient regulation of heat into and out of the body. Professor Heller is a coauthor of a leading college textbook, Life: The Science of Biology, now in its 10th edition, and the new biology textbook, Principles of Life.
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Reviews

Rated 3.7 out of 5 by 29 reviewers.
Rated 2 out of 5 by Fantastic instructor, material not practical First, I would like to say that this instructor is outstanding. I have listened to or watched numerous Great Courses and all were good, but this instructor was the best. However, for anyone not involved in sleep research, this course was far too deep for most. I have a degree in molecular biology so could follow along somewhat, but those not specifically trained in these areas would be lost quickly. I had hoped to learn about more practical and useful information. I do not recommend this course to the layman. December 15, 2014
Rated 1 out of 5 by Too Advanced. This class is far too advanced. It probably would be a fine course for someone who majored in microbiology. The professor made little effort get beyond the technical jargon and explain the science to the listener. Try lecture 9 for example and see if you can retain anything from it. I stopped watching this after lecture 12 and this is only the second great course out of 25 that I failed to complete. November 22, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by Way too technical for interested person Way too technical in covering what I wanted out of the course. I wanted to understand sleep disorders and solutions - not the highly technical reason why the brain works the way it does. The technical stuff did not add anything to his discussion in the last few chapter on solutions. This course would be good for a college or technical student who was just getting into sleep disorders BUT NOT for the average consumer. I suggest you rethink the title, the audience and the content. Best wishes, ED November 20, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great coverage of sleep science I'm a psychology doctoral student and have been using The Great Courses as a resource to bolster my learning. I found this to be an excellent class on the subject of sleep science - it added so much to my understanding (beyond the single chapter coverage in my textbooks). The professor has tremendous experience and credibility. He does get a bit heavy into details and research at times, so take that into consideration (some like that, others dont). Enjoy! June 30, 2014
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