Timeless Sleep

Posted: March 16, 2015 in Speculative Science

Sometimes sleep feels like a monumental waste of time. It’s kind of like Spanish class, except it feels good, and I can be naked without getting arrested. I have so many things I want to do every day, and there just isn’t enough time to get it all done. It couldn’t hurt to have an extra eight hours to commit pixelated mass murder on my Xbox. Hey, I’m kidding. I’d totally be productive, shut up.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I am writing a sci-fi novel. I’ve been working on it for the last five years and recently started over in lieu of a deeper plot. I kept most of the world-building, at least. Anyway, one of the goals of my story is to explore ways science may progress and how its progression will impact our lives and the lives of our descendants.

One of the ideas I came up with was the notion of getting a full night’s sleep without losing any significant amount of time. Pardon me if someone’s already thought of this idea (I’ve never heard of it before), but I was thinking time dilation technology would be key.

The idea is to take advantage of relativity while you sleep. That is to say, encapsulate your bed in a “time-bubble” that causes time to occur faster in your bed than it does outside. So, say you decide to go to bed at 9:00:00 PM and sleep for eight hours. Then, while you sleep only ten seconds pass in the regular world (because of the dilation difference between your bed and the outside). When you wake up, it’s actually only 9:00:10 PM, even though you feel like eight hours have passed. You have the rest of the night to live out your “day,” at which point you go to sleep again about 16 hours later (or sooner, if you feel like it).

There are a few caveats to this, of course.

The technology would be pointless without first solving the aging issue. If you sleep for hours at a time without much time progressing in the regular world, you’d get older a lot faster than you do today. It is important to consider that, while you may have achieved a full twenty-four-hour day to be awake, you are still experiencing an additional sixteen hours asleep. That means for every day you are alive, your body has aged about a day-and-two-thirds. So, when your 66th birthday comes around, physically you’ll be almost 100. Scary.

If we can halt or reverse aging, it won’t matter how much time you spend sleeping because in theory you’re immortal. All we need to do is figure out how to increase and maintain the length of telomeres in our cells. The funny thing about extending telomeres, by the way, is that science is already dang close to pulling it off.

…Which brings me to my next point. Even if modern medicine does evolve to eliminate aging, getting critically injured can still kill you. The longer you’re awake, the greater the chances of something bad happening. So while not crucial, per se, it would certainly be ideal if most serious injuries were treatable with a high success rate. Doctors are already pretty good at saving lives, but there’s always room for improvement.

Of course – and I say this from a position of distaste – we could just forget about the aging issue altogether. It’s not inconceivable that society might evolve to not care. What I mean by that is, take what I said earlier about having your 66th birthday and feeling 100. If everyone had this experience, they might not care as much. After all, technically if you live that long, you did experience a full century of life. It was just compressed. If everyone existed this way, we’d still be awake together and interacting just like we do today. The briefer time on Earth would be nothing more than a technicality.

However, I will not be pursuing this scenario in my novel for a couple reasons. For one, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But also, I want my characters to have their telomeres lengthened at 80 years old and look like they’re in their early 20s by the time they’re 87. (I theorize that the de-aging effect would require about seven years of cellular respiration to transpire because that’s how long the human body takes to exchange all its particles.) Depicting the elation of elderly people (particularly husbands and wives) looking young again is freaking awesome.

There is another issue, too, and that is food. At face value, this may surprise you, but when you consider how much people eat during a regular day and then combine that with the notion of a denser day, the problem becomes apparent.

Americans typically eat three meals every day. If you’re experiencing two days for the price of one, then you’re actually going to be eating six meals a day. Six. That means humanity will require twice as much food than it did before. If timeless sleep ever becomes a reality, we’d better learn how to farm really freaking well.

As far as time dilation itself goes, it’s basically impossible. The only way to do it is to manipulate relativity. There are only two variables in the universe (that we know of) which affect the density of space-time, and those are speed and gravity.

The speeds at which you can alter the progression of time to a useful degree are impossible with today’s chemically-based rocket technology. You’d have to travel at a significant percentage of the speed of light in order to accomplish it. And even if we do find a way to move fast enough, it would still have to be done in space. Obviously that’s impractical for everyday sleeping.

Gravity is our best bet, albeit still a severely flawed one. Increasing the gravitational pull around a bed would certainly also increase the density of space-time, but the tidal forces required to compress time to the amount we want would probably kill us. At the very least, it would cause discomfort to the point of making sleep impossible.

Still, it’s fun to think about. In my book, I’ll use artistic license to make it happen anyway. I’ll take a sci-fi shortcut to just make it work. It’ll be delightful. Once the hurdle of creating the technology is taken care of, I’ll try to incorporate the issues mentioned above as much as I can.


April 16, 2017 UPDATE: Earlier, I discussed how I thought reducing someone’s age would take about seven years because of cellular respiration. Today, I disagree.

It really all depends on how quickly cells divide, and that depends on the type of cell. The more frequently a type of cell divides, the faster that particular system in the body will de-age as old, malfunctioning cells are replaced by young, healthy ones. For example, taste receptor cells on the tongue have a lifespan of about 10 days. Liver cells, on the other hand, divide every 8 to 16 months. Thus, if all the telomeres in the body were repaired, taste receptors would be “young again” sooner than the liver.

I’d wager that if this became a thing, you’d have people with nice looking skin fairly early-on (because skin cells divide often), but other systems would remain old longer. Systems would de-age at different rates, which would be fascinating.

I didn’t know it when I originally wrote this entry two years ago, but there’s also a mechanism in our cells that repairs DNA (not just telomeres). There’s a treatment scientists are developing called NAD+, which is a compound that triggers the repairing mechanism. Our bodies produce it naturally, but less and less over time, and that’s why we age. Reintroducing NAD+ into old mice made them young again in only 1 week. Could it do the same for us humans?

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