The Quick 10: 10 Sleep Snippets

I'm struggling today, you guys. I can barely keep my eyes open. All I can think about is getting home and closing my eyes for a few minutes. Which actually isn't going to happen, but hey, a girl can dream.

Anyway, since I can't think of anything else, I thought we would go for a sleep-related Quick 10 today - just some random facts about sleep. Hopefully I make it through all 10 before my head hits the keyboard.


1. Thai Ngoc is a Vietnamese man who has supposedly not slept a wink since 1973. The story is that he came down with some sort of a fever and, for whatever reason, hasn't been physically able to get any shut-eye since. Tests are out of the question; Thai hasn't left his village in 60 years and doesn't intend to. Amazingly, he appears to be pretty healthy otherwise, except he did say a couple of years ago that he is starting to feel like "a plant without water".

2. No doubt we have all experienced the microsleep. It's a brief episode of sleep that only from a portion of a second all of the way up a few seconds. It's probably most familiar to people who have been driving and feel like they spaced out for a minute, or perhaps during a particularly boring class when you do the sudden head-jerk move and wake yourself up almost immediately.

3. Exploding head syndrome sounds like it involves spontaneous combustion, but it doesn't. It's when you've been asleep for a couple of hours (usually, anyway), and then experience a really loud noise within your own head. It can sound like an explosion, a roar, loud voices "“ anything of that nature, really. There's no pain, but people who have experienced exploding head syndrome can be fearful and anxious after the attack. Doctors don't really know why this happens, but some think it might have something to do with stress and fatigue. Women are more likely to experience it than men. Any _flossers experience this? I'd be interested to hear about your episode(s).

4. Ever wonder what a good thread count for your sheets is?

Standard is 150, good-quality starts at 180 and 200 or higher is considered percale. Anything over 500 thread count may not be as wonderful as you think "“ the Federal Trade Commission warns that these types of cloths are often made of plied yarns. This means one yarn is made by twisting together multiple finer threads. It warns that consumers could be "deceived or misled" by these thread counts. Lots of insiders say anything over 500 thread count is pretty much a waste of money.

5. The official medical term for getting up in the middle of the night to pee is "Nocturia".

dogs6. And, the technical term for what we call "sleep", AKA that crap in your eye when you wake up sometimes, is "rheum". It's a mixture of tears, mucus, dust and dead skin cells. Gross.

7. During the Industrial Revolution, people used to put their babies to sleep using opium. Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup and Godfrey's Cordial were two popular remedies. I found out this fascinating fact in the upcoming mental_floss book, History of the World: An Irreverent Romp through Civilization's Best Bits, coming soon to a bookstore near you!

8. In 2004, Jonathan Husni inventeed PowerNap, an audio recording that says it can induce a three-hour sleep cycle in just 20 minutes.

9. People who suffer from night-eating syndrome are likely to be people who skip breakfast, consume at least half of their calories post-dinner, suffer from depression or anxiety, and have trouble sleeping in general.

10. Finally, one more definition for you. You know when you're falling asleep and you're ALMOST there and all of a sudden your leg jerks all by itself? Or sometimes you're dreaming you're falling and your body jerks when you hit the ground? That's a Hypnic or Hypnagogic jerk. No one knows for sure why this happens. It happens to me a lot.

I made it! Yay! Time for a nap. OK, at the VERY LEAST, I'm sleeping in tomorrow.

Begins and Ends: European Cities
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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