Alpha Yawn

I learned something interesting today.

Have you ever done something daft in a moment of inattention, like fill a diesel car with petrol (as at least two of my readers have), or put something on the floor and tripped over it seconds later? Most of us have, and the good news is that it isn’t plain stupidity – there’s a psychological name for it, it’s called alpha sleep.

According to my extensive research, alpha sleep is when you’re doing something that you do so often, you’re on automatic pilot: fuelling up, walking through your kitchen or whatever. Unless something draws your attention to the fact that things aren’t as usual, you’ll do what you usually do: fill up with petrol even though today you’ve got the diesel company car, trip over the box that isn’t usually there, or whatever.

There’s also the “72″ rule: this is that your conscious mind can only maintain a certain number of bits of information, and for everyone, that’s between 5 and 9. If you’re cooking, for example, you might have to consciously remember that you need to check the pasta soon; that there’s a sharp knife in the washing-up bowl, and that there’s a cat sitting in the middle of the kitchen. Once the number of different-to-usual facts exceeds your number, your brain shifts something down to the alpha autopilot level, and you trip over the cat.

Well I thought it was interesting – it certainly explains a lot.

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