We are not who we could be. Our minds and bodies are capable of much more than we have yet achieved.
If you’re anything like me, you have already raised a sceptical eyebrow reading this. It sounds like the beginning of a woo-laden pitch for whatever the latest fad is in new-age treatments.
In the realm of real science, we are constantly uncovering new information about the operation and optimisation of our brains and bodies. Applying that information could lead to a dramatic change in our capability and longevity.
One of the most fascinating areas of research right now is around sleep. I was directed to this by my friend David Turner, founder of TweakSleep, who told me an array of horrifying statistics last week. I was drinking beer rather than taking notes, but suffice to say most of us don’t get enough good sleep and it is killing us.
Prompted by our conversation I hit play on a recent episode of the RSA Events podcast, a talk given by Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Sleep Science. He didn’t reassure, packing his presentation with stat after stat about the damaging effect of sleep deprivation on our bodies and minds, starting with a shocking piece of information about how sleep ages testicles.
Shocking as this all was, it was also extremely positive. Because what we understand, we can start to address. Fixing our sleep problems might help us to tackle everything from mental illness to cancer, accelerate our learning, and even boost our economy.
The ways to do this also sound interesting and novel. This isn’t just about early nights. For example, Walker is experimenting with direct current stimulation to the brain to amplify positive effects, such as the laying down of memories. It’s a technology that could help students to learn but it could also be applied to tackling the onset of dementia.
Sleep is just one of many areas of human physiology about which we still have so much to learn. As we do, and as we apply that knowledge, we can improve. It’s vital to remember this when looking to the future. The limits of human capability are far from set. Whether you are looking at population, economy, work or any other factor, you have to remember that tomorrow’s humans may well be much more capable and robust than we are today.