Why do some of us do bizarre things in our sleep? Like riding a motorbike, using a shoe to 'phone for a pizza or even having sex while sleeping? These are complex behaviours and yet sleepwalkers aren't aware of what they're doing and often have no memory of their strange night-time activities.
These sleep disorders are known as non-REM parasomnias and include conditions like night terrors and sleep eating.
So why does it happen? Sleepwalking usually occurs during deep sleep, when something triggers the brain to wake - but not completely. So the areas that control walking and other movement wake up, yet other parts, involved in awareness and rational thinking, remain asleep. What's confusing is that sleepwalkers look awake - their eyes are open - but they're really not awake. They're not really asleep either. The brain is awake and asleep at the same time. We have known this happens in some animals, who can sleep with half of their brain at a time. But recently, we have learnt that similar things can happen in the human brain.
In the first of a three-part series, neurologist, Dr Guy Leschziner, talks to patients he's been treating at his sleep clinic at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals in London. They include Jackie who began sleepwalking as a child and continued her strange night-time behaviour as an adult, riding her motorbike whilst sleeping.
We hear from James whose night terrors have become so violent his wife has begged him to get help; from Alex who rescues people from floods in his sleep. And we talk to Tom, whose recent diagnosis of sexsomnia has had a significant impact on his life.
These remarkable sleepwalking experiences help us to understand the complex workings of the human brain.
Presenter: Dr Guy Leschziner
Producer: Sally Abrahams.
The Skipped Beat
There's science, music, poetry and the deepest human experience in the rhythm of the heartbeat. That rhythm - the normal, heaving violence and beauty of an inner beast - sets the tempo for everything we do.
That is when it's dancing in time. Because about a third of us will one day have an agitating discordance at the heart of our lives - an irregular heart rhythm.
For presenter Michael Blastland, the experience of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation made him confront his own heartbeat for the first time. "It is one of the most disconcerting things to have this turbulence in your chest. This broken rhythm. I feel utterly unhinged in that state. I cannot think, cannot sit still."
In this programme, Michael explores what that rhythm, largely taken for granted, means to us. And what happens when it goes wrong.
We meet Mike, whose team mates kept him alive with CPR for over half an hour when he collapsed on the rugby pitch, and Paul, whose heart often stopped for eight seconds at a time. The poet George Szirtes argues that Tennyson's verse enacts his heartbreak. Director Kezia Cole reveals what happened when she projected an audience's heartbeats onto the set. And we follow consultant cardiologist Mike Koa-Wing into the operating theatre at Watford General hospital as he burns away the heart cells responsible for a patient's irregular heartbeat.
Ultimately, Michael asks, is disruption a worthy price to pay for appreciation? Is the heightened awareness of his own heartbeat, and the life that it fuels, worth the disturbing disturbance of arrhythmia?
Featuring original music by Simon Jarvis
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.
A Picture Held Us Captive
Novelist, Harvard Fellow and Social Entrepreneur Zia Haider Rahman explores the powerful impact the use and abuse of metaphor can have on the world around us.
Metaphors are not simply there for the use of novelists or poets. They are integral to the way we think and understand - pervading our language and allowing us to conceptualise new and complex ideas, using familiar images. They are essential to areas of abstract study, where they provide the basis for new theoretical models, and play a vital role in communicating specialised knowledge to non-experts.
But, Rahman argues, these compelling imaginary pictures can also become prisons, trapping our thought in over simplistic or entirely false versions of a more nuanced or entirely different reality. Drawing on examples from the worlds of biology, economics, business and environmental policy, he demonstrates the very real and damaging consequences these metaphors can have.
Biologist Stephen Rose and Sociologist Hilary Rose discuss how the misleading metaphors of genetics built the popular enthusiasm for the field's apparently miraculous powers. Economist and Green MEP Molly Scott Cato explains what happened when the "natural capital" metaphor took on a life of its own. Economist John Weeks dissects the metaphors of austerity, "balancing the budget" and "the national credit card". And novelist and ex-McKinsey consultant Dina Nayeri demonstrates how the world of business pushes metaphors to the edge of meaning.
With original music by Daniel R Wilson
Readers: Milli Prus and Edward Doegar
Produced by Michael Umney and Margot Gibbs
A Resonance production for BBC Radio 4.
Frank Ormsby's Parkinson's
When the poet Frank Ormsby was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, his response was unexpected. He embarked on a newly fertile creative period, documenting his experiences and finding a voice in his poetry that he was beginning to lose in his daily communications.
His first act was to search Google - for jokes. "Which would you rather have, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. Obviously Parkinson's! I'd rather spill half my pint than forget where I left it."
As he discusses with Marie-Louise Muir, the illness has changed him. It's mellowed him. After a career as a school teacher, his daily life is now quieter and more solitary. There's a poetry, almost, in his pauses and silences.
Frank belongs to the generation of Northern Irish writers that has followed in the footsteps of Seamus Heaney and Michael Longley, His medication, he believes, has aided his creativity. But it has also induced hallucinations. He finds himself sitting on his own in his study but surrounded by people, by the ghosts of his mother-in-law and unidentified visitors. And he's also haunted by a fear that the earth will open up and swallow him.
But if you ask how he's doing, he writes,
"I'll tell you the one
about 'parking zones disease'.
I'll assure you that the pills seem to be working".
Photo credit: Malachi O'Doherty
With readings by Frank himself and Ciaran McMenamin from The Darkness of Snow.
Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree production for BBC Radio 4
The Glasgow Boys: Chaos and Calm
Byron Vincent joins the Violence Reduction Unit in Glasgow to see how they turn young men away from lives of violence and chaos.
Three years ago, after he discussed his own violent and chaotic youth in a Four Thought talk on Radio 4, Byron was invited to come and speak at the VRU. Since then he has been back several times - now he experiences the unit's work directly. Byron spent two weeks embedded in two of the VRU's programmes, from watching the scheme's participants working in food trucks in the west end of Glasgow to joining the cast at the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh.
After hours, and with his powerful personal connection to their lives, Byron has extraordinarily candid conversations with the young men involved in the scheme about fear, insecurity, redemption, love, hope and the real reasons for spiralling violence. But what sacrifices will be required for them to make new lives, free from chaos and violence?
Producer: Giles Edwards.