sleep-talking

 

Why don’t we talk more about sleep? We spend one third of our lives asleep and a lack of sleep can affect our memory, thoughts, mood and behaviour. In fact, sleep makes a huge impression on our waking lives.

This month we hold a panel discussion with the Royal Society of Literature on the art and science of sleep. Featuring Jonathan Coe, writer of The House of Sleep and winner of the Prix Médicis; Professor Russell Foster FRS, head of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford; and Deborah Levy, playwright, novelist and poet with a particular interest in the subconscious; all chaired by poet Lavinia Greenlaw, the first artist in residence at the Science Museum.

We caught up with our panel before the event to find out more about their sleep behaviour.

 

Professor Russell Foster FRS

What interests you about sleep?

The biology and importance of sleep is profound yet largely ignored in society, including in medicine, business and education. 36% of our entire lives are spent asleep, which, in terms of time spent, means sleep is the most important behaviour we experience. Sleep can be so easily dismissed, yet it plays a critical role in memory and problem solving. Cutting short our sleep can make us more impulsive, less empathetic, cause mood swings and increase the use of stimulants like caffeine and nicotine or sedatives like alcohol.

Sleep deprivation can cause abnormalities in our metabolism. It’s suggested long-term sleep loss might also pre-dispose us to early-onset diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Most recently, sleep disruption has been associated with mental illness.

In short we must restore sleep as a key priority to promote a healthy and productive society.

What keeps you awake at night?

Unanswered emails!

Does science influence your work?

It is my work!

 

Jonathan Coe

What interests you about sleep?

The fact that it takes up about a quarter of our lives and yet we appear to know so little about it.

What keeps you awake at night?

I used to walk in my sleep and that gave me many disturbed nights, but when I became a father that stopped; now I sleep like a baby every night.

Does science influence your work?

My book, ‘The House of Sleep’, is unique in my work in being influenced by science. Apart from that work, I’m a classic and tragic example of the science/humanities divide.

 

Lavinia Greenlaw

What interests you about sleep?

How I resist it.

What keeps you awake at night?

My interest in the idea of night.

Does science influence your work?

I think it’s crucial for artists and scientists to share how they map and measure ourselves and the world, and how we both describe the unknown.

 

Deborah Levy

What interests you about sleep?

It’s such a relief to have a break from life. Although sleep has its own life, it’s another dimension.

What keeps you awake at night?

Car alarms, watching films, trying to solve a problem, or the wrong sort of light. My bedroom has a small balcony and sometimes just looking at the sky keeps me awake. It’s always changing and so it’s exciting rather than calming.

Does science influence your work?

Always. For its facts and for its poetry.

Sleep talking will take place at the Royal Society, London, on Thursday 22 October, 7–8pm, in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature. The event is free to attend, no booking is required, and everyone is welcome. Find out more about the event on our website.

The event can be followed on Twitter on the night at #sleeptalking from @royalsociety and @RSliterature.