Return Home

Sleep Deprivation

Back to Episode

Ahhhh, babies. We get in bed with producer Hannah Palin, and her husband, and her baby Dominic, as they all try to go to sleep. An intimate portrait of the effects of sleep deprivation. And then we try to understand what sleep is for by looking at what happens when you don't get it. The tired, cranky feeling of exhaustion, what’s that really about? What thing are you missing by not getting sleep? Dr. Allan Pack describes what an exhausted brain looks like (hint: a 14 year-old boy's room). And Dr. Giulio Tononi gives us insight into why a good night of sleep is good for the brain and, as the Sisterhood of Convoluted Thinkers and opera singer Brad Cresswell tell us, good for learning how to play music.

Interactive Game! "Tononi. You decide:" Football Player or Sensitive-Type?


Dr. Allan Pack, Hannah Palin and Dr. Giulio Tononi

Comments [19]

Maegan Jones


My name is Maegan and I work for Healthline, a trusted health resource for more than 60 million people.

We’ve recently created an informative and interactive graphic that shows the effects of sleep deprivation on the body. I’d like to offer this free resource to Radiolab as well as discuss a potential collaboration with Healthline.

The graphic has an embeddable code for use on your resources page:

I hope that Radiolab users find this graphic helpful, and I look forward to discussing a potential partnership to make the world a stronger, healthier place!

All the best,


Maegan Jones | Content Coordinator
Your most trusted ally in pursuit of health and well-being

Aug. 17 2017 12:58 PM
Catherine from MD

You have absolutely no idea what sleep deprivation is if you are using Hannah's temporary condition as your measure. Try not being able to sleep for YEARS due to an injury and the pain it causes. When you can sleep, it's just for a few hours and not deep enough to ever dream. Measure that for me. I was hit in a car accident that knocked my spine completely out of alignment. I was in constant physical pain around the clock that got worse when I was still--could sleep only for 3-5 hours before the pain was so bad I just couldn't stand it anymore and had to get up. I couldn't focus, couldn't form new memories, I was exhausted all the time, every minute was a battle to survive. No one understood what it was like.

This show gives you nothing more than a speck of what real sleep deprivation is like.

Jul. 24 2015 03:46 PM
Grace from Portland, OR

Bless you, Hannah! Hopefully Dominic is sleeping well by now! A couple of thoughts for anyone struggling with a child's sleep difficulties and your MD can't offer safe, effective remedies:
1) seek an evaluation with pediatric, CranioSacral therapist - ; and
2) consult with a licensed Naturopath to test your child for food intolerances, and adrenal function, as well as any other possible systemic imbalances.
Dominic sounded so desperate, even in pain, as did Hannah. Sometimes one needs to look under more stones for the answer(s), but not all stones are obvious nor within the one's usual paradigm.

Jun. 06 2015 06:10 PM
Kelly from NYC

Where is her husband Steve? Why can't he watch the baby while she gets some rest? He better be out of the country because that's not fair.

May. 28 2014 05:21 PM
cherie from CT

When I heard Hannah's voice -- and even more, the baby crying in the background -- I started crying. I remembered how much it hurt, HURT, to want to sleep sleep sleep and to have to take care of a crying baby instead. My daughter (who was the main source of this memory) was standing next to me, and she didn't notice my reaction.

For the last couple of years, she has finally slept through the night on her own, and also goes to bed on her own. She just turned 10. (10 YEARS old -- that means I went only about 7 years with interrupted sleep.)

So lastly, for Hannah -- Sleep sleep sleep. Some kids can do it. Some kids just can't. Don't blame yourself. It's not your fault.

Mar. 16 2013 07:31 PM

Mar. 06 2011 10:06 AM

Yea! Please Please Please post the name/artist of the song starting up between these two segments. Please (did I say please?)

Feb. 27 2011 03:25 PM

Clearly I'm way behind (just discovered the awesomeness that is Radiolab podcasts), but I just heard this story and I wanted to hug Hannah. I've been there myself and know exactly how she was feeling. Not sure if you read these comments, Hannah, but I was feeling your pain! Here's hoping you've been getting more sleep in the last couple of years.

Dec. 29 2010 05:58 PM

i, too, am dying to know what song that was! even though i'm 3 years late in listening.

Nov. 18 2010 03:36 PM
cbj from Venice, CA

Whats the song just before the Dream segment? Please, there should be an hour on why music affects people like this. Many have asked. I'll buy it, I promise. If it was a one off for the show by an intern, then I need to email that intern.

Sep. 22 2010 02:46 PM
Daniele from Texas

What is the song playing between this segment and the one after??

Jul. 26 2010 09:04 PM
PB from LA

Yes, please tell us what the song is that comes in at 40:00 It's great. It sounds a bit like Luminous Beings

Mar. 12 2010 09:03 AM
caro from MN

This is so perfect I almost couldn't listen to it. I'm so glad my kids sleep these days, and hope Dominic does, too, by now.

Feb. 20 2010 07:01 PM
Silas Grae

What is the song between this segment and the next?

Sep. 23 2009 08:35 PM

what is the song that plays between segments?

Apr. 20 2009 01:39 AM
Denise Dennis from Seattle, WA

I have a two year old who mostly sleeps through the night these days. The first year was hellish--I can completely connect with what Hanna Palin is going through.
She mentioned that she becomes angry when she is sleep deprived. I too have had a great deal of anger, really intense homicidal anger, in the periods of sleep deprivation. I'm normally a pretty well adjusted, calm person. I'd be interested to learn more about why being tired leads to such intense anger. What is anger, and why do we feel it so intensely when we are profoundly tired?

Sep. 13 2007 07:11 PM
JasonJ from Sugar Hill, Georgia

I enjoyed this piece but it left several unanswered questions.

For instance, one hypothesis presented was that "tiredness" was due to the brain not being able to sort everything out (and jumbled proteins...).

But yesterday I worked out 2 hours a the gym, got 7 hours of sleep, and am exhausted today. (I didn't dream about working out either). Couldn't sleep just be a more efficient way of resting the physical body? People get tired doing hard physical activity. Obviously the body needs to recuperate. This can't be associated with the brain working things out... why wasn't this purpose of sleep examined.

Aug. 02 2007 03:54 AM

As a student, I've observed that, when I get just one or two hours less than what I should, I am unbelievably sleepy the next day. However, when I get somewhere around four to five hours, I feel chipper and not as groggy. Of course I just feel terrible if I keep the latter up, but is there a reason for this?
And also, what is the song that plays during the break between deprivation and dreams?

Jul. 18 2007 09:38 PM
Vanna Ortiz from Albuquerque New Mexico

Great stuff. Its been awhile since I've been sleep deprived by a toddler, but worrying and waiting for a teenager to come home very late at night has a similar effect. How do we get the little housekeepers in our brains to become more efficient, cleaning up more quickly so we can feel refreshed on even a couple of hours of sleep?

Good luck to Hannah and family!

May. 31 2007 04:26 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.