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Sleep research reveals the need for sleep

Does it happen to you too that you set the alarm clock early and don’t get up at that time? That’s exactly what happened to me today. My aim was to get up at 5.30 am but I stayed in till 7am. In the past I would push myself out of bed but I learnt if I had extra rest I actually achieve more! So I listen to my body rather than my mind these days.  Guess, what? The research says it too!

Also I noticed when I speak with people the subject of sleep always somehow comes up. Hmm…!


Our conception of sleep has been influenced by the examples of world leaders who celebrated an ability to function on as little as four hours’ sleep a night.

But all that is changing as an alliance of neuroscience, psychiatry and bio-engineering probes deeper into the complex corners of the brain and learns more about the 24-hour circadian rhythms that drive the body clock. The tangle of neurotransmitter pathways and hormones is being unravelled and with this comes the power to help beat conditions from diabetes to depression as well as ensuring we get a good night’s sleep.

The science of sleep is emerging as a critical clinical discipline and the recently established Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute (SCNi) at the University of Oxford is the first of its kind worldwide dedicated to the neuroscience of sleep, and advancing our understanding of how sleep and circadian rhythm disruption impacts health.

“The prize is solutions to conditions and diseases that cause untold misery, and drain billions of pounds in healthcare resources”

John Williams, head of clinical activities for the Wellcome Trust, says: “Sleep is fundamental to our ability to function and lead normal, healthy lives. The study of sleep hasn’t had the necessary visibility, and it is only in the last ten years or so that we have been able to develop the tools and technique to genuinely understand what is going on. We now need to understand the very rhythms – the circadian rhythms – that underpin and drive our sleep-wake states.

“It is a very exciting time because a collaboration of world-class researchers, who sit in different domains such as psychiatry and physiology, has been assembled at Oxford to unravel and employ all the latest technologies and techniques that are going to unpack these problems and make the work transformative.”

Dr Williams adds that new research in sleep could help with optimising shift work in roles from the flight decks of jumbo jets to the factory floor and also potential restructuring of the school day to fit in with radical sleep-pattern changes in adolescents.

…Dealing with mental health. It may seem an obvious step, but for sleep it is a giant bound forward.

The need to address sleep on a more scientific and condition-specific focus is being recognised across healthcare.

And Arthritis Research UK has highlighted the sleep problems of people in chronic pain.

We have tended to sit back and admire the examples of legendary short-sleepers, such as Margaret Thatcher and Bill Clinton, but now we are developing the science to understand with greater certainty what makes the brain tick at night.

Advances in science and healthcare make sure that sleep does not remain in the dark ages.



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