Why can we never remember the moment before falling asleep?

Every night most us lie in bed waiting to be abducted by oblivion. All day we exhibit conscious power over our bodies (feed the pigs, floss ass after shower, don’t shit pants at board meeting) but at night we relinquish control to mysterious, subconscious forces that seem to “capture” our minds by surprise. It’s very strange, when you really think about it. One moment we’re thinking various thoughts (I can’t wait to be king, to pee or not to pee, what is the circle of life? when I was a young warthog) and the next thing we know it’s morning, with either a placid sunrise gently tickling our fluttering eyelids or a submarine emergency alert alarm punching our eardrums. Why can’t we ever remember the transition?

Most people believe that sleep is like a simple on-off switch. I am either awake or I’m passed out like Kendall Jenner after a long, arduous day shooting a vacuous horror film. Not so. While scientists are still struggling to uncover many of the secrets behind our re-charging bouts of routine unconsciousness, most of them currently agree that falling asleep is a gradual process. Our brains are not being suddenly wrapped and mentally-suffocated in an existential black-blanket, but different parts are shutting down at different times. This means you don’t technically start falling asleep when you flop on your waterbed next to Tina and close your eyes. The body is actually falling asleep, in subtle ways, hours before you slip into unconsciousness. That’s one of the reasons why doctors grumble, scold, and lash patients with their stethoscopes when they hear of erratic sleep patterns. Erratic sleep patterns prevent the body from shutting down smoothly and properly. And this is bad, cause we’re complicated, finite-ticking machines.
i think matrix
Even though falling asleep is a gradual process, one of the first parts of the brain to shut down/change functions, when we’re “ready” for sleep and lying down…the culprit behind our short-term loss of memory…is the hippo camping:
Camping 2 field
I knew it was you.

I mean, the hippocampus:


The hippocampus is located beneath the cerebral cortex (brain’s control center/consciousness), is part of the limbic system (emotion, behavior, motivation), and is responsible for memory (long-term, short term, and spatial navigation). In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to experience damage. People with Alzheimer’s often have an inability to form new memories.

The weird name (which is Latin) is derived from the Greek words “horse,” and “seamonster,” because it looks like a seahorse:


Hippocampus is required for the formation and recall, but not the storage of memories. It’s more like the memory processing center. Sleep is essential for the consolidation of a memory, so perhaps that’s why the Hippocampus “shuts down”/changes functions right away. Memory is essential for survival (sabertooth tiger near pond, Mate has brown eyes and dimples, don’t use three-leaf clusters on single stem as toilet paper), so it makes sense that this organ gets to work immediately. When we “go under,” it is believed the hippocampus switches from short-term to long-term memory focus (hence the short-term memory loss) replaying the events of the day for the neo-cortex (where long memories are stored) by reviewing and processing these memories.

I’m no scientist, but I wonder if, since memory is so complex and essential to survival, being asleep is the only way for us to deeply encode what has happened to us. And since this deeply-encoding process is so complicated and difficult, we can’t be conscious for it, since our consciousness would get in the way/take away energy/focus from the hippocampus. Reality is so complex and ever-changing that every night the Hippocampus needs to shout: “Alright everybody, chill the fuck out, relax, I gotta figure out what just happened today so the captain upstairs can get a new job.”

Keep in mind (pun intended) that the number of neurons in the adult brain (around 100 billion…coincidentally, the same number of stars in our galaxy and the same number of galaxies in the universe) does not increase significantly with age.

neurons, galaxies
“Is our sun…just…a neuron..in…god’s brain?” “Shut up and just pass the blunt.”

In fact, if we hit our head with a fist, a couple of neurons are “killed.” This means memories are not the result of new neuron production. What’s happening is long-term potentiation (LTP). LTP is the persistent increase in synaptic strength following high-frequency stimulation of a chemical synapse/recent patterns of activity. Here’s a diagram:

Long-Term-Potentiation1 pic

Memories are thought to be deeply encoded by modification of synaptic strength. I forgot what this has to do with my original question, but I think it’s just a good thing to know. Wait, did I already answer my original question? I think I did. I’ll have to read this over. Anyway, here’s a goodbye, warm-and-fuzzy gif:


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Why does skin wrinkle with age?

If I make it past the age of 40 without my heart or brain exploding (unlike my favorite author, Thomas Wolfe, who died at 37 and when the doctors trephined his skull a burst of pressurized cranial fluid spurted across the room) I look forward to the day when my skin starts to wrinkle. Like a young boy admiring the hair follicles in his armpits blossom, I will observe the decaying and folding of my epidermis with a glowing satisfaction and a quiet pride. Why yearn to re-live the smooth-faced glories and taut energies of youth? I can go back to those fickle, ungracious, boisterous days in my sagging, thinning, white-haired head.

Interesting enough, a biopsy of a wrinkle reveals no obvious signs that it is any different from the rest of your skin. So why am I becoming a bulldog?

The development of wrinkles is a multi-factorial process of intrinsic and extrinsic aging.

Intrinsically, your skin is producing 1% less collagen each year after the age of 20. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body (30%). If your body is a house, preferably a brick house, then collagen would be the scaffolding. Less collagen means your skin is thinner and more fragile.

As we hurtle towards death, our bodies also produce less elastin. Elastin is a protein found in connective tissue which allows our bodies to resume their shapes after stretching or contracting. Elastin is like a rubber band:

But if you strain the springiness of the elastin too much/too frequently, the skin has difficulty springing back, and you develop grooves in your skin. This happens with repeated facial expressions such as squinting and laughing which is why young people can develop crows feet and other various lines. For me, I’ve already developed lines on my forehead from spending the majority of the last 26 years lifting my eyebrows in a questioning glance then furrowing my eyebrows in profound thought.

The two proteins mentioned above work together to keep our skin firm and resistant. Collage is the strength upon which the outer layer of the skin is anchored (located in the lower layers of the dermis). Elastin is responsible for the softness and elasticity of the skin (located in the middle layer of the dermis).

The third, crucial component of our skin are glucosaminoglycans (GMCs). This component is the final piece of our skin’s extracellular matrix…

So close.

GMCs are polysaccharides or amino sugars. Together with water, GMCs create a fluid which fills the space between the collagen and the elastin fibers. GMCs are water-binding substances which provide a turgidity or a firmness to our skin. This is one of the reasons why drinking lots of water can promote smooth, healthy skin and make your cheek feel like a baby’s fat ass.

As we plummet towards the grave, our sweat and oil glands also break down. The outermost layer of our skin is covered by an oil called sebum, which lubricates and protects our skin. The sebum is our natural raincoat. It is when sebum is removed from our skin during a prolonged submersion in water that our fingertips and feet become all pruny. Once the oil is gone, water becomes waterlogged in the epidermis. Why doesn’t the rest of our skin get pruny? Because the thicker layer on our feet and hands contain more dead skin cells than any other part of our body. Dead skin cells pull more aggressively on the lower layers and swell more easily than living cells. Unlike a raisin, our skin doesn’t get pruny because of shrinking, but because of expanding.

Extrinsically, our skin ages because of the sun and environmental damage (smoking, pollution). According to a study by the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology,
damage caused by UV rays accounts for at least 80% of skin aging.

UV rays penetrate our skin and damage the collagen and elastin fibers. In response to this damage, our body produces metalloproteinasas. Some of these enzymes break down the collagen further and the result is an uneven formation (matrix) of disorganized collagen fibers called solar scars. Repeat this abnormal skin rebuilding process over decades and you get wrinkles dinkles.

In addition, during the UVA attack break-down process, oxidants or free radicals are produced. Excessive amounts of these oxidants will damage our cells (they steal energy from them) and can even alter their genetic material.


If you’ve read my post on “Fred and the Trap house” you will remember that I asked the question: “why does black not crack?”…because Fred is 47 but doesn’t have one wrinkle. Answer: Black skin produces more melanin than white skin, which fights against (absorbs and disseminates) UV rays and prevents DNA damage. An albino is someone whose body doesn’t produce any melanin. Studies also show that black skin produces larger amounts of sebum.

Smoking also causes excess oxidants. In a study of identical twins, the smoker was found to have thinner skin (by as much as 40%). And in another study of women, the smokers were found to have less secretions of Vitamin E in their skin, and Vitamin E is believed to be an antioxidant.

Every year Americans spend 12 billion on cosmetic procedures to hide the signs of aging.

Every year Americans spend millions of hours staring at mirrors worrying about Father Time ploughing creases in their face.

Not for me.

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