Learn English while you listen in today’s conversation about sleep. It turns out sleep is even more important for a healthy mind than we thought. In this English listening practice lesson, we look at new discoveries being made in neuroscience, studies on sleep, and the long-term health implications of new research for your brain.
Sleep isn’t just a time to rest your body. Sleep also
helps your brain process the information you learned when you were awake. In fact, during sleep, your brain is hard at work, making connections between the new knowledge you gathered and what you already know. Your brain is an amazing machine. It can quickly remember new vocabulary or grammar rules, which is great when you’re trying to improve your English listening skills. But the learning process also requires your brain to work well. That’s why you need to rest.
We all know that poor sleep will leave you feeling tired, grumpy and cranky. All because lack of sleep affects brain function. The less you sleep, the more your rational thinking bits of brain deteriorate. Sleep is one of the easiest ways to grow new brain cells, repair damaged areas and improve your overall cognitive function. But now we learn that poor sleep over the long term could cause long term degenerative brain disease.
Listening to conversations in English is a great way to improve your English language skills. Our English listening lessons keep you engaged in what you are listening to. To get the most out of any English listening practice, you really need to focus on what’s being said. You need to listen to the audio several times until you can comfortably comprehend 80% or more of the English language you are hearing. You can learn more about our listen and learn approach to learning English here.
Making progress with spoken English is about practice, practice, practice! When you listen to British English native speakers converse, you're practising the sounds and tones of the language you're trying to learn. Listening to practice conversations in English is an effective way to boost your listening comprehension skills, whether you're just starting out or are trying to improve your fluency. The good news it we have hundreds of lessons to choose from here.
Cranky Cognitive Rational Deteriorate Sleep Rapid Dementia
Hi and welcome to this Adept English podcast. If you’re learning English and you want lots of lovely material to listen to, then you’ve found the right place. Wherever you’re listening to us – Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts or any of the other platforms you can listen on – we are ‘fertilizer’ for the English speaking part of your brain! So feed your English language learning while listening to something interesting from Adept English.
So today’s topic isn’t directly about English language learning, but it’s about something which affects all of us, without exception. So listen for interest, while your brain does its English lesson.
If you listen to our podcast frequently, then you’ll know that I have a big interest in psychology and neuroscience. ‘Neuroscience’ is the study of the brain. And one of the areas of study which has moved forward scientifically in the last few years – is the study of sleep.
Sleep, SLEEP is what you do in bed for 8 hours every night – or quite probably for fewer hours than that. Most adults don’t get enough sleep. And sleep is still fairly mysterious.
That means that there are a lot of things about sleep that even neuroscientists don’t understand yet – but they’re working on it. And the message that’s coming through – sleep is really, really important to the health of your brain as well as to the health of your body. But there are a lot of things which can interrupt and spoil your sleep.
Like many people, I wear a band on my arm, which monitors my sleep. I read the book by Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep – which was a best seller, written in 2017. That book may well be available in your language - I do recommend it. But since reading this, I’ve been monitoring my sleep. ‘To monitor’, MONITOR just means ‘to watch carefully’, ‘to measure’.
When I was younger, I used to sleep well without effort. But now, I have to work at it. Quite hard sometimes! And my sleep monitor has recently had an upgrade. ‘An upgrade’ means that it’s done a download of some new software – and my app, the software behind my sleep monitor now shows me even more information about my sleep. So now I know when I’ve had light sleep, when I’ve had deep sleep and when I’ve had REM sleep.
Something else to worry about then! Not just am I getting enough sleep full stop, but am I getting enough ‘deep sleep’ and now, am I getting enough REM sleep? REM or REM sleep stands for ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ – and this phase of sleep is when we are most likely to dream. We dream, whether we can remember it or not – and that’s DREAM. ‘Dreaming’ means when you’re asleep, but you have experiences inside your head.
In your dreams, you go places, you meet people, you have conversations, things happen to you, sometimes bizarre things – all while you’re asleep. That’s dreaming – and a fascinating subject in its own right – your dreams. Let me know if you’d like a podcast on the contents of dreams!
But what I notice from my sleep monitor is that my sleep starts off light, then I’ll have some pretty big stretches of deep sleep. Since I’ve been trying to improve my sleep, my deep sleep has got better.
Deep sleep is necessary to allow your body to recharge – like a battery. So there are lengths of deep sleep and light sleep. And then at some point in the night, my REM sleep starts. And again, as with the deep sleep, I seem to move between light sleep, REM sleep, light sleep, REM sleep.
The problem is that on some nights, I wake up too early – it might be 5:30am. And my challenge then is ‘Can I get back to sleep?’ Often there’s lots of think about because I’m a busy person. So I might get back to sleep, or I might not. I might instead lie awake, thinking until I need to get up at 7.30am.
If I don’t wake up in the night, or if I do succeed in getting back to sleep, then I can see on my monitor - I’ve had quite a lot of REM sleep. But if I wake up too early and I can’t get back to sleep, it’s the REM part of my sleep that is missing! I may have had the right amount of deep sleep, but I’ve missed out on REM sleep because I woke up too early.
So waking early, or not sleeping for enough hours in the night massively affects the amount of REM sleep that we get. Another factor in this for many people is alcohol. You may fall asleep easily with alcohol, but it stops REM sleep from happening. So alcohol affects your sleep quality.
Now I work with people in my psychotherapy practice and many of them talk about problems with sleep too, and often the problem is that they wake too early as well. So of course, I read research – what’s going on – to help them but to help myself at the same time. What seems to be the problem with early waking, is that there’s a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting to do. At a certain point in the night, the need to process ideas in our heads, awake, in our minds seems to overtake our need to sleep.
We need to think about ‘what happened yesterday’ and ‘what do I have to do tomorrow?’ Mentally, we can time travel all over the place – we can revisit conversations we’ve had, remember events from long ago and we can think about the future. We can rehearse situations and conversations in the future. So we lie awake, possibly quite still, with these thoughts going through our heads. This is what’s going on for us instead of sleep.
We may look as if we’re asleep, but the brain is very active – and the last thing that it seems possible to do when this is happening is to go to sleep! Having studied it previously, I know that this sort of activity in the brain, this reflection, this thinking about our lives is different from the thought processes that happen when we’re busy and engaged in a task, when we’re actually doing something.
So neuroscientists talk about the DMN or the Default Mode Network – this is the network in our brains which lights up when we are not actively in a task, and instead we’re simply reflecting, thinking, daydreaming if you like. And if it’s negative thinking, then we call it ‘ruminating’. ‘To ruminate’, RUMINATE means ‘to think negative thoughts’. So in waking life, the Default Mode Network is either ‘reflecting’ or ‘ruminating’.
For me, I’ve learned to switch off the ‘ruminating’ for much of the time, because I know that that’s a really bad thing to do. But for me, it’s the ‘reflecting’, the ‘daydreaming’ if you like, that keeps me awake. And it’s a problem! Sometimes it’s neutral - I’m working things out, working out what to do about something. Sometimes it’s actually positive, it might be enthusiasm. But either way, it’s not good for my sleep.
In order to sleep, it seems that we need to turn down this Default Mode Network activity in our brains. We need to stop actively thinking and reflecting. So we might use ‘Headspace’ or another app to help us slow down our thinking, switch off our thinking in order to go to sleep.
We might focus on our muscles, on our bodies – or even focus on ‘looking at the backs of our eyelids!’ Some people listen to familiar TV programmes to help them turn off their thinking and get to sleep. But ‘turning down’ this conscious thinking, this reflective Default Mode Network of the brain seems really important to help us sleep. And particularly hard to do if you’re stressed and you’ve got a lot going on in your life.
Just pausing there to say to you that if you’re enjoying this podcast, but you’d really like to work on your English conversation – with two voices, two people, our Course One Activate Your Listening will help you with this. It’s available on our website at adeptenglish.com and it will really help your English language learning.
Back to our topic. What’s really interesting – there seems to be some link between dementia in later life – that’s DEMENTIA, so diseases like Alzheimer’s – a relationship between that and REM sleep.
REM or REM sleep seems to be disrupted in Alzheimer’s disease and neuroscientists are trying to establish whether it’s cause or effect? Is disturbed REM sleep a symptom of dementia, or disturbed REM sleep a cause of dementia? We don’t know. But the evidence seems to be that dementia takes years and years to develop.
A photograph of a happy millennial woman lying in bed with sleeping mask. A listening practice English conversation about the importance of sleep.
It’s just the symptoms don’t show until much later in life. I think it’s interesting - that ability to reflect about your life, to think about things, to ‘pause for thought’ or to ‘have insight’ as we say – that’s exactly what someone with dementia can no longer do.
So you might wonder whether our very stress-filled lives mean that we don’t sleep long enough because we’re busy – and whether this lack of sleep over the long term could be a factor in the rise in the number of people with dementia.
Perhaps we don’t sleep for long enough or we wake up too early because we need to process all the complicated things in our lives – and either way, we don’t get enough REM sleep. Our modern lives are so complicated, there are so many things to keep on top of, that our Default Mode Network is probably much more developed, probably contains many more neurons, because we have to use it all the time. Perhaps it’s like an over-developed muscle. And maybe then it’s harder to switch off the Default Mode Network, so that we can go to sleep.
Modern life is complicated. My grandmother didn’t have to remember and keep on top of 125 different apps with passwords, though I’m sure there were other things to worry about. And maybe she just didn’t live long enough to get dementia!
What I’ve also discovered doing the research for this podcast – is that the Default Mode Network is also very active when we’re dreaming during our REM sleep. I guess it makes sense – in our dreams we can also travel in time, relive conversations, revisit old places, live out all kinds of unlikely scenarios. But there’s one big difference.
If we’re awake and conscious and our Default Mode Network is active, we’re leading it largely with conscious thought, whereas if we’re dreaming, it’s our unconscious that’s the director of this film, the architect of our dreams, not our conscious selves.
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It seems that our DMN, Default Mode Network closes down completely almost for our deep sleep, but comes alive again for our dream sleep. I sometimes work with the content of people’s dreams in therapy and it seems to me that dreams do an important emotional ‘processing’ job.
REM sleep and in particular, dream sleep is crucially important to learning and memory – there is scientific evidence of this. But thinking out loud here, maybe somehow the use of the Default Mode Network by our conscious minds, when we’re awake tires it out, taxes it. And then the use of your Default Mode Network when you’re dreaming, when you’re fast asleep, repairs and restores it, allows it to process and file things in a healthy way.
Maybe we damage this part of our brains by not getting enough sleep. Is this too simplistic an idea? Obviously this isn’t proven – but it would make sense and there’s some scientific data which is beginning to suggest this. I’m going to continue to read about this because I want to learn more.
I hope I have – as we say in English – ‘whetted your appetite’ too. I’ll get back to you if I have any more interesting findings on this topic!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.