If anyone is passing through London over the coming weeks, I urge a visit to the 'Sleep & Dreaming' exhibition by the Wellcome Trust , just outside Euston Station. The exhibition looks at our understanding of sleeping and dreaming through the ages from a scientific, social, and artistic perspective, and as with many of the museums and galleries in London, admission is free.

Here are some take-aways from my visit:

- Doing without sleep: In 1959, radio DJ Peter Tripp managed to go 201 hours without sleep. However, Tripp suffered from hallucinations and paranoia, and perhaps even brain damage as a result. The record was beaten in 1963-64 by Randy Gardner, who went a full 11 days without sleep and had no lasting side effects. I've read that this record was since beaten by Tony Wright from the UK in 2007 and that David Blaine is also planning to break the record as his next feat of endurance.

- There exists a rare genetic condition called fatal familial insomnia, in which the patient develops incurable insomnia usually in their middle age and dies as a result.

- Drivers of vehicles often suffer from microsleep, when they dose off for a few seconds at the wheel or start day dreaming. Car manufacturers are working on technologies that monitor blink patterns and alert drivers when they are too tired. I imagine such a technology would be useful to day traders working double shifts.

- On dreaming: We dream while we are sleeping, not only during the rapid-eye-movement stage of sleep (there are five stages of sleep and the whole sleep cycle lasts about ninety minutes before repeating). Listening to audio tapes while sleeping does not appear to be effective but sleeping and dreaming seems to play a crucial role in the formation of the days memories and knowledge: an experiment was conducted on rats whereby the rats were placed in a maze and their brain activity monitored as they worked their way around. It was found that the same parts of the rats brains kept firing away while they were asleep, supporting the idea that 'sleeping on it' really helps. Human studies have had similar results, supporting the idea that sleep is a kind of revision. Some suggest that the days knowledge not only gets remembered but that it consolidates with other knowledge. For traders, this could be particularly important. Indeed, with the market see-sawing all over the place I imagine many traders view sleep time as 'dead time' when they could be doing something productive. as for me, I'm off to sleep.


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