Here is the full transcript of professor Dr. Robert Stickgold’s TEDx Talk on Sleep, Memory and Dreams: Fitting the Pieces Together at TEDxRiverCity conference. Dr. Stickgold is the Director of Harvard’s Center for Sleep and Cognition.
This talk is basically about what sleep is doing for us. There’s this common belief that when you are asleep, the brain shuts off, the body lies down and nothing happens. And that’s really not what’s going on. It’s a little bit like a fairy tale, and in fact, “The Elves and the Shoemaker” fairy tale is about my story tonight.
So, here’s the story: The shoemaker was a poor shoemaker, had just enough leather left for one pair of shoes. He cut out the leather for two pairs of shoes – excuse me – and then, as it was late, he left the pieces on the bench, ready to sew in the morning. But when morning came, two pairs of shoes lay on the bench, most beautifully made and no sign of any one who had been there.
What I want to tell you is that this is not a fairy tale. This is what happens for us each and every night. And that sleep, in fact, is sewing together the pieces of our memory. I’m going to walk you through four examples of this, just to show you how powerful it is. I’m going to show you how, when you sleep, your brain will extract from experiences the gist of what happened – it will extract the gist and kind of forget all those details that weren’t so important.