Sleep – “The Main Course in Life’s Feast and The Most Nourishing”

Monday, May 11th, 2020 | STEPHEN BRONI | No Comments

moonlit sky with stars

Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary labourer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.”
So wrote William Shakespeare.

I’ve never really thought of `The Bard’ as being a cognitive scientist but he is uncannily close to the truth with those words if we take a brief dive into sleep science research.

So, what is your  sleep routine? Are you a morning or a night time person? Do you go to bed at same time every night or just whenever?

I’m a night time person myself and often don’t get to bed till midnight or later if I get engrossed in some creative project. At the other end of the day I wake early, hate sleeping in and am a big fan of sunrises so, if  pre-dawn sky looks promising will often head out with camera, tripod and thermos of coffee to watch the new day unfold. As a student  I was as guilty as  the next man  of pulling a few too many `all-nighters’ in the run up to exams or during post exam party season. My first post-university job was as a `Water Bailiff on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and involved night shift work -patrolling the river after dark looking for poachers! And it doesn’t get dark till very late in summer on the Outer Hebrides (Great use of a zoology degree, eh?). In my late 20’s I crewed on an private Antarctic expedition ship  for over a year where our `watches’(shifts) ran four hours on 8 hours off over the 24 hour cycle. As part of the expedition  I  spent 11 months in a tiny hut  on the Antarctic continent with just 2 companions.  There we went from 24 hours daylight to 24 hours darkness that  lasted about 3 months ( It would be fair to say  that the `novelty’ of 24 hours darkness wears off fairly quickly !).  The terms `night’ and `day’ as determined by the hands on the clock lose their meaning. I quickly discovered that the key to maintaining daily motivation, mental and emotional balance was `routine’. Having  a routine for the `day’  meant Antarctic night became an experience I could relish and  cherish forever !

Outside of  those diurnal extremes I’d always held to the belief that it doesn’t really matter when you go to bed? Life is for living, right? The body will tell you when it wants to sleep? What ever time  that happens to be that day doesn’t really matter!

How wrong I was!

I’ve recently discovered that there’s a lot of research that says it does matter!
Not just when you sleep but how much sleep your body gets.

What’s more, the implications of not sleeping well and regularly could have profound effects not just on your ability to learn but on your cardiovascular system , reproductive capacity and immune systemSo as we look for ways to maximise our protection against CoVid19 a good night’s sleep  may well be another powerful tool in the cupboard.

It is clear that far from being at rest during sleep your brain is beavering away  and working very hard  to keep us  healthy, and sane.

Sleep is our  superpower according to brain scientist Prof Matt Walker.Matt Walker on TED Stage

In his short TED talk, he eloquently presents us with some sobering research and conclusions on how we potentially abuse our bodies through our sleep habits.


The data and conclusion presented  in his talk  blew me away  when I first watched  and this along with further reading on the topic has made me re-evaluate my current sleep regime. 

Have a look for yourself  and if not convinced, here a few more links on sleep science  you may find interesting:

Why do we sleep? Russell Foster
Russell Foster is a circadian neuroscientist: He studies the sleep cycles of the brain. And he asks: What do we know about sleep? Not a lot, it turns out, for something we do with one-third of our lives. In this talk, Foster shares three popular theories about why we sleep, busts some myths about how much sleep we need at different ages — and hints at some bold new uses of sleep as a predictor of mental health.

The brain benefits of deep sleep — and how to get more of it
Dan Gartenberg
There’s nothing quite like a good night’s sleep. What if technology could help us get more out of it? Dan Gartenberg is working on tech that stimulates deep sleep, the most regenerative stage which (among other wonderful things) might help us consolidate our memories and form our personalities. Find out more about how playing sounds that mirror brain waves during this stage might lead to deeper sleep — and its potential benefits on our health, memory and ability to learn.

Sleep-Engineering: Improve Your Life By Manipulating Your Sleep
Penny Lewis Lewis is a neuroscientist at the University of Manchester, where she runs the Neuroscience and Psychology of Sleep (NaPS) lab. Based on the latest neuroscientific research Penny Lewis shows why sleep is thought to be critical for combining and restructuring memories, and thus to form the basis of creativity.

Why Schools should start later for Teens
Wendy Troxel
Teens don’t get enough sleep, and it’s not because of Snapchat, social lives or hormones — it’s because of public policy, says Wendy Troxel. Drawing from her experience as a sleep researcher, clinician and mother of a teenager, Troxel discusses how early school start times deprive adolescents of sleep during the time of their lives when they need it most.
This talk is more related to US teens where many schools start ~ 7am. (Perish the thought !) but still worth a look.

Additional references related  to  some of the specific research cited in  Prof. Matt Walker’s talk can be found here

Finally, a few starter  tips for a good night’s sleep

  1. Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, no matter whether it’s the weekday or the weekend. Regularity is king!
  2. Keep it cool! Aim for a bedroom temperature of around 18 degrees Celsius.
  3. Avoid the urge for that last look at your emails or just one more Youtube clip just before bed .
  4. If find yourself tossing and turning  and not able to get to sleep, get out of bed and go to a different room and do something different. Your brain will very quickly associate your bedroom with the place of wakefulness, and you need to break that association. So only return to bed when you are sleepy.
  5.  Try  and avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol  before  bed time

For more Healthy Sleep Tips  from our Otago University  Well Sleep Centre click here

So if you find  yourself  struggling with aspects of school work, prone to colds and flu and  life just generally  getting you down try re-evaluating your sleep routine.

In  the words of  a more modern prescient writer, the  “Dean of science fiction“,
Robert  A. Heinlein:

“Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more !”

I’ve eaten so much fish oil I may grow gills, but I still didn’t ace the Calculus internal…..

Thursday, March 6th, 2014 | EMILY HALL | No Comments

brain fullProducts to increase or enhance memory are seemingly endless, foods, vitamins, minerals, brain exercises… Seems like a lot of work to make my brain, well, work!!

Sooner than you think fair students, you will be writing the last exams of your high school careers, and as part of that process, you will need to call upon your brain’s extraordinary power and memorise/assimilate the subject related knowledge to get you through those externals!!

Whether you want to believe it or not, one of the tried and true exam techniques is NOT leaving it to the last minute or even last term to study, but starting with regular revision now. This could be especially important for external topics covered at the beginning of the year. If you keep touching them regularly, there won’t be a big amount to try and cram into your head all at the end.

Another technique – teaching! Teaching something to someone else makes you think hard about your own understanding of the topic. If you are struggling with a question, try to explain the problem to a friend who is not studying the subject – this can force your brain to work out a solution and someone with little to no knowledge of the subject can make you reconsider information you had taken for granted. Even just speaking the information out loud and trying to explain concepts in your own words helps.

So start studying now, teach your cat some Physics and get ready to see Excellence at the end of the school year. In the meantime – spend some time checking out the Student Learning Centre. This is an invaluable resource for your first year of University but their study tips and writing tips can help you out in High School as well!! They also have a nice printable study planner that is generic enough you can start using it today!

Student Learning Centre