Read and Watch | How can you do science in your sleep?

by Gemma Kerr

Video by Abdull Nurdin-Hussein

Header image We The Curious at night by Sam Jolly


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Who for

Adults and families

Sleep.  It’s something we all do.  Sleeping can feel like a universal experience.  Most of us have probably experienced the difference a bad night’s sleep can make.  But are our experiences of sleep all the same?

Sleep is a very personal experience. Because of this, it can be hard to know if the way you sleep is the same as how someone else might sleep.  A research team at the University of Bristol is investigating sleep patterns - and seeing just how different our sleep experiences can be.

We The Curious is working with these researchers to bring people’s sleep stories into science.  By telling us about your experience of sleep, you can contribute to current scientific research. (The survey is now closed, but watch this space for responses from the researchers).


What part of sleep is the research exploring?

Researchers at the University of Bristol are particularly interested in the circadian rhythm, or ‘body clock’, as it is often known.  This body clock affects how the cells in your body behave.  Different processes in the body are prioritised at different times of day.  Your body knows to get your digestive system ready around your usual mealtimes, for example.  One of the most important features of the circadian rhythm is sleep-wake time – your body timing when to be asleep.

A lot of important work happens in your body while you sleep.  Your cells are busy on repair jobs – taking the time to heal.  Cells produce materials to protect different parts of the body.  Some of these materials are hard and used to protect cells in your bones.  Other materials are more elastic and used to repair skin.  Scheduling these repairs is an important part of what your body clock does.

This body clock doesn’t always keep to time though.  There can be drastic shifts in a person’s body clock because of changes in their life.  Factors like age, work patterns, and having children can all change your body clock.  The sleep patterns of children, teenagers, and older people are generally different for this reason.

The University of Bristol’s research is specifically looking into how people feel after these changes to their body clock.  What differences can you feel in your body after a change in your sleep?  How does it feel to be jet lagged?  Is there a difference in how you feel in winter and summer?  Does your sleep pattern affect your mood the next day?  This research cannot be carried out without people like you.  (The survey is now closed)


Why is We The Curious asking me to get involved in research?

A key part of our manifesto as a charity is to open up science in our city. Science becomes more accurate when you include everybody in the process. Historically, medical research has been dominated by white men – leading to gaps in our medical knowledge of other groups. By including more people in the research process we can begin to fill these knowledge gaps.  This could make medicine more effective for everyone. Science is better when it reflects a diverse range of lived experiences. At the same time, the benefits of science can be shared more easily.

As a science centre, We The Curious is in a great position to help improve the accessibility of science.  We want to act as a bridge between scientific research and the people of Bristol.  Our Open City Research pledge is about giving everyone the opportunity to be part of the scientific research process. Everyone should have the opportunity to contribute to and benefit from scientific research. 

Watch this space for responses from the researchers!

People on Millennium Square sharing their sleep stories as part of research at the University of Bristol. (Credit Abdull Nurdin-Hussein)

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