Thursday 21 March 2019

sleep early and often

The Wexford Science Café meets on the third Tuesday of every month . . . except when it doesn't. It has been lurching running for more than 4 years now and we've covered:
Stephen J Gould’s spandrels; Galena; Thomas Kuhn’s paradigms; Organic soil microbiome; Composting toilets; Water quality; Bacteria in food prep; Urination once again; Toxicity from botox to beer; Air-quality and asthma; Gravity waves; Neuroscience of torture; Greenland ice melt; Cider making; Zombies; Wolbachia and tropical diseases; Radon; Diabetes & Alzheimers; Marketing generic meds; Oroville dam crisis; March for Science; Allometry; Science book-swap; Erwin Schrodinger; Pheromones; Back-garden astronomy. 
All interesting and showing the reach of science and the collective interests of the WSC participants. I am quite religious about turning up even if it means driving nearly a hour from home to get there: It is one of the few social engagements I have outside of work and nuclear family so is important for my mental health.

Last Tuesday we heard that getting a good night's sleep is also vital for your mental health. One of our reg'lar participants in the WSC Happy Family is Mr Pill the Pharmacist, who has recently become a Daaaad and two years into the gig is still laboring under a sleep deficit as the wean frequently neglects to snooze the night through. If he was a Kiwi, he'd have an instructional video. What the child's father has noticed is that he can be unaccountably ratty at work - amazed at the stupidity of his customers; furious when things go wrong; narky with his colleagues. Then he put two and two together to realise that his anger descended when he'd endured a really wretched night.  He also floated a hypothesis, as yet unquantified, that most of the kids who present a script for ADHD medication are no way ADHD: they are just sleep deprived. When a family comes to the doctor's surgery with €60 and a troublesome restless teenager, it is impossible for everyone if they come out with only a suggestion that a good night's sleep is required . . . and why not lock up the youngster's phone before bedtime? They'd rather dose the trouble away . . . and then get really indignant when Young Jimmy scores a few Es at the weekend.

The hook on which our discussions about sleep were hoist was the book by Matthew Walker, British author of Why We Sleep and Prof of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley. It is Walker's contention that sleep hygiene is at the root of many woes: mental and physical health; success at work; success "ín bed"; that car crash; that slice of chocolate cake. The book was a surprise runaway best-seller in 2017, so must have rung a few bells (or jangled a few chains) with the reading public. Which is a rather diminished cohort because book-reading is soooo yesterday and pushed to the back of the closet as everyone embraces screens. I've written about the negative impact of the [blue] light used to make screens work. Dau.II pointed out that device content is designed to be seductive if not  addictive. What are we like? The evidence of the damaging effects of sleep deprivation is piling up while we're swiping just one more tweet long after after midnight.

The sleepy discussion at WSC led on the work of Annie Curtis and her Clock Lab, now at RCSI in Dublin. She is finding that disruptions to another cycle can have serious health consequences. Lots of things go round and round and up and down for us on a daily basis - core body temperature; sleep-wake; the bowels. Curtis has put together large datasets [like half a million middle-aged Brits] showing that other aspects of well-being and equanimity fluctuate on an annual basis. You're more likely to have a fatal heart-attack in the Winter; surrogate cardio markers also tip up as the days get shorter: we get fatter and our blood-pressure goes up significantly, for starters. And another large cohort study showed that clinical depression descends on many women in Winter. The underlying basis of these adverse events is the molecular clock which is ticking in us all: cranking up the immune system at certain times of the year (perhaps because that's when the pathogens are abroad??) with unexpected side-effects in other systems of the body. Those epidemiological studies are paralleled by lab-based studies in which the undulating concentration key molecular immune markers are tracked across time. What's not to love about someone who can use a quote from Wm. Shagsper as the title of one of her papers.
“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.”
Night-caps off!
More Women in Science.


  1. This should be in the Wexford People - maybe beside the nice ad for Padraig Murphy and his pharmacy - his sage advice is as valuable as any pharmaceutical product

  2. My mother took me to Dr Death* in Clonmel during the summer of '78 a couple of months after I completed the Leaving Cert. She was worried about me because at 17 I didn't sleep until late/early (2am) and I was constantly restless (I would have though this standard for that age). He prescribed me Librium. He saved Valium for the married housewives. Luckily for me in this instance, I've never been consistent about anything in my life so after taking them for a few days they got cast aside and I continued on with my night owlery. I have it on good authority that he was still dispensing Valium for whatever ailed you in the first decade of this new century. He should have read Valley of the Dolls like I had and he'd know that pills weren't the answer and instead advised me to stop mooning around after boys and take up long distance running.

    *A little googling turns up the fact that Dr Death started the practice in 1978 so he can't have been that long in the tooth.