Ask Dr. Universe

Episode 13: Meet a Sleep Scientist | Why does sleep feel so short?

December 17, 2021 Washington State University
Ask Dr. Universe
Episode 13: Meet a Sleep Scientist | Why does sleep feel so short?
Show Notes Transcript

On this podcast, we'll talk to some curious people, hear their stories, and investigate some fun science questions along the way. Today's guest is someone who is really curious about sleep. Let's give a warm welcome to Ashley Ingiosi. She'll help us explore a science question about why sleep sometimes feels so short. Keep exploring at 

As always, submit burning questions at Who knows where your questions will take us next.

Ask Dr. Universe Episode 13: Meet a Sleep Scientist | Why does sleep feel so short?

Dr. Universe: Hello young scientists. I'm Dr. Universe. And if you're anything like me, you've got lots of big questions about our world. On this podcast, we'll talk to some curious people, hear their stories, and investigate some fun science questions along the way. Today's guest is someone who is really curious about sleep. Let's give a warm welcome to Ashley Ingiosi. Thanks for joining us today. So, when you were in fifth grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Ashley Ingiosi: I watched the weather every day on the news. Around that time, I thought it'd be really fun, be like a meteorologist. And that actually followed with me through high school. And then I went to college at University of Michigan and they didn't have a meteorology program. So, I was like, okay, but I still interested in science. I just, I didn't even know you could be a scientist, though I didn't know there was actually a job you could have. And I didn't even realize that was an actual job. You could have until like the last year of college, there are any scientists in my family before me. So, I'm the I'm the first scientist in my family. But some of my cousins are scientists now, too.

Dr. Universe: How did you learn about being a scientist? How did you get into studying sleep?

Ashley Ingiosi: It was my second year of college and I was taking an introductory psychology course. And there was one lecture out of the entire course that they did on sleep. And there is this guy I learned about named Peter Tripp. He was a radio DJ back in the 1950s. And he decided he wanted to do a fundraiser for the March of Dimes, which is an organization that helps babies that are born prematurely. To raise money, what he decided to do was to do this sleep-a-thon, so he was going to stay awake for 201 hours.

Dr. Universe: Doctors even told him not to do it, because they weren't sure what was going to happen. But he did it anyway. So, the doctors asked if they could study him.

Ashley Ingiosi: And he said, Sure. So, he ended up doing this radio show from a glass booth in the middle of Times Square in New York, you stayed awake for 200 hours. But eventually, during this time, he was staying awake, he started getting like really mean, you know, just like how sometimes if we're not getting enough sleep, we can be in a bad mood. But this was like a really bad mood. He made his barber cry, he started seeing things, like having hallucinations.

Dr. Universe: For instance, he thought there were tons of spiders crawling in issues, but there weren't any spiders.

 Ashley Ingiosi: And they found out it was happening approximately every 90 minutes, which is kind of the same length as our sleep cycles. So, they think that potentially he may have started like dreaming while he was awake. The brain was trying to do what it knew it needed to do, even though he was staying awake. Eventually, he was able to sleep in for about a day. But afterwards, people kind of describe that he was a little bit different, like the people closer to him. So, he ended up getting divorced. And he ended up losing his job. And some people think it might be related to being awake for such a long period of time. But it was because of that I realized how little care we give to how much sleep we get. But how much sleep impacts every aspect of our daily lives. I remember like walking out that lecture and I called my dad right away. And I was like, you know what I'm going to do, I'm going to study sleep. And I don't know what that means or how to do that. But I'm just going to start taking the classes to learn more about sleep.

 Dr. Universe: We got a question from Brooklyn, age 12, about sleep. And we were wondering if you might be able to help. Brooklyn asked, why does sleep feel so short?

 Ashley Ingiosi: My mom and dad always told me when we were kids like driving to my grandparents’ house which was four hours away, they were always like if you fall asleep, we're going to get there faster.

 Dr. Universe: Oh, I know that feeling when someone's driving, and they're not actually going faster, but time just seems to pass a lot quicker. 

 Ashley Ingiosi: The reason why sometimes sleep feels so short is because part of sleep is that we become less aware of our surroundings. You're not like feeling your bedsheets, you're not hearing the noise around you, you're not seeing things around you. And so, to wake up out of sleep, you just need like bigger stimuli.

 Dr. Universe: Stimuli. Stimuli are the things that bring about a physical response or a behavior in someone.

 Ashley Ingiosi: Because you just have like this reduced awareness of you know what's going on in your surroundings, you just become less aware of time passing as well. And it's not that our brains going offline either. Our brains are still very busy during sleep and doing a lot of really important things. But the reason why we can stay asleep is because we are less aware of what's going on around us.

 Dr. Universe: Scientists still have lots of questions about sleep. What kinds of things are you investigating in the lab?

 Ashley Ingiosi: Yeah, there's a bunch of different types of cells in the brain. And for the longest time, we've really only focused on one type of cell called neurons. But neurons are only just one type of cell. There's lots of other types of cells. And there's actually a cell in the brain that outnumbers the neurons called astrocytes. And we haven't really studied those cells as much as neurons, because for a long time, we just kind of considered them to be support cells that they were just there to help out the neurons. We also haven't really had the tools to study those types of cells either until recently, and so I'm trying to figure out how these astrocytes might be playing a role in our in our sleep. And so now I've been using these new tools to see if astrocytes are also changing with sleep and wake, and I found that they are. So now we have like the first evidence that there are other types of cells in the brain that are changing their activity with our sleep.

 Dr. Universe: As you work to cover these mysteries about sleep and ourselves like astrocytes. What kind of tools are you using in the lab?

 Ashley Ingiosi: So, one of the things I use a lot are different types of microscopes. One of these microscopes is called a two-photon microscope that lets us see, you know, really fine details of cells in in brains and another tissues and organs. And that that's a really big microscope that fills up a room where we are. And then I use another microscope, that's a miniature microscope that can sit right on the head of a mouse. So, you can see how the activity is changing as the mouse is running around and you know, doing mouse things. And then yeah, yeah, the other big one would be measuring brainwave activity. So, we can look at EEG activity like you would do if you went for like a sleep study or something like that. 

 Dr. Universe: Do you have anything to tell our listeners who might be interested in the science career one day?

 Ashley Ingiosi: Science is just all about asking questions and trying to find the answers to those questions. And you're also trying to find answers in a way that you're trying to prove yourself wrong. So that you can be sure that you think you're right about what you're guessing is going to happen. And so, designing your experiments is a really important step. But mostly you need to come with like the curiosity. And then as you get older, find your way into two laboratories. You can kind of see what you like and see what you don't like and go from there.

 Dr. Universe: You never know where your curiosity might lead you. That's all for this episode, friends. A big thanks to Ashley Ingiosi from Washington State University for joining us on today's podcast. As always, you can submit a science question of your own for a chance to be featured at ask Dr. Universe that That's a-s-k-d-r-u-n-i-v-e-r-s-e dot w-s-u dot e-d-u. Who knows where your questions will take us next!