Karyn O'Keeffe

Dr Karyn O'Keeffe has been working in sleep for over 10 years now. She started her career as a Clinical Sleep Physiologist at WellSleep, University of Otago Wellington, where she diagnosed and initiated treatment in those with sleep disorders. After five years of rotating shift work, including nights, she was keen for a new challenge, so found herself in two half-time roles at two universities – at both WellSleep and the Sleep/Wake Research Centre – while completing her PhD (yes, insane). A few years ago, she moved away from a clinical role entirely and now works full-time as a Research Fellow at the Sleep/Wake Research Centre at Massey University.

Later school start times for NZ teenagers - Sleep on it

Jul 05, 2013

Last week, Radio NZ interviewed Dr Paul Kelley, an educational researcher from the UK, on educational outcomes in adolescents when school timing is shifted to a later start time.  From a sleep science point of view, I wasn’t blown away by Paul’s interview and I was surprised that Radio NZ had opted to not to describe any of the New Zealand research that had been done.  So I thought I would… Both local and international research has shown that teenagers get less than the optimal amount of sleep.  This has a number of implications.  Sleep loss in teenagers is associated with weight gain, substance use, motor vehicle accidents, low self-esteem and poor academic outcomes. Noticeable changes are seen in sleep and circadian (body clock) biology during adolescence.  Not only does the structure of our sleep change, but the timing of … Read More

Alcohol: sleep aid or hindrance? - Sleep on it

Jun 11, 2013

Many of us are aware that we get off to sleep quite easily when we drink large amounts of alcohol before bed, and its sedating effects sometimes mean that alcohol is used as a sleep aid in those that are having trouble sleeping.  However, alcohol is very disruptive to sleep (some of us may have experienced this on nights where we’ve partied a little too hard). Although the effects of alcohol on sleep have been studied for well over a hundred years, most of the research on specific aspects of sleep has been conducted since the 1930s.  These early studies suggested that alcohol had a two pronged effect, with sleep structure and movement changing from the first to the second half of the night.  These effects vary by the amount you drink. The majority of laboratory studies investigating the effects … Read More

Smartphone sleep apps - Sleep on it

May 06, 2013

For a few months now, I’ve been playing around with a sleep app to get a better idea of how easy they are to use, what data I could collect, and whether I’d remember to input my sleep data every day.  When I first started using it, I was mainly interested in my sleep duration and sleep timing.  Recently though, I’ve noticed the developers for my particular app have been adding more and more bells and whistles.  There was always the option to indicate lights on and off times for your sleep period, with additional options to limit phone functions, such as receiving calls and emails overnight.  However, my app now claims that it can use the accelerometer in my smartphone to accurately detect movement overnight, and interpret movement as sleep stages. Many apps now include this feature, and provide … Read More

Daylight savings: There’s no spring to my step - Sleep on it

Sep 28, 2012

Most of us don’t look forward to the switch to daylight savings time that will be required on Saturday night. I know I’m not. It’s not just the hour of sleep lost; daylight savings also requires a resetting of our circadian body clock. And this is where things get complicated, because the interaction of the two has follow-on effects in the days following daylight savings. Daylight savings time is all about shifting our daylight hours so they align optimally with our working day. The upcoming transition to daylight savings time provides a way of shifting our daylight hours to be one hour later. This transition means that we shift our day/night cycle one hour forward in relation to our internal circadian body clock and therefore, to adjust to the new day/night cycle, we need to shunt our circadian clock one … Read More

Should I cram all night before that exam? - Sleep on it

Sep 25, 2012

I’m going to give a presentation to some law students in a couple of weeks. Along with providing information about normal sleep and what can affect it, I’d like to convey that short sleep is not a good strategy for optimising learning. Short sleep amongst students is not uncommon. As a teenager, our circadian body clock naturally drifts later. Those late bedtimes and lengthy sleep-ins we see in teenagers are actually a normal physiological phenomenon. Our body clock generally returns to ‘normal’ in our early twenties. However, late bedtimes in teenagers and young adults, coupled with required early rise times due to school and other commitments, often means their sleep is cut short. Alongside this, our behaviour can sometimes boost these changes in the timing of our circadian body clock. Most university students, at some time or other, have probably … Read More

Learning new information while we sleep - Sleep on it

Aug 31, 2012

This week brings some exciting findings about sleep and learning.  In particular, in a study to be published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Arzi and colleagues have shown that it’s possible to learn new information during sleep. To date, research has largely focussed on information storage during sleep rather than new information processing during sleep.  For example, we know that the learning of varying types of information is enhanced with sleep, and that different types of information are better learnt during different sleep stages. However, up until now we haven’t seen many studies that have successfully demonstrated that we might be able to learn new information while we are asleep.  Using very simple forms of associative learning, researchers have previously demonstrated that animals, such as rats, and human infants are able to process some types of information during sleep.  … Read More

Driving drowsy is like driving drunk - Sleep on it

Aug 10, 2012

This one is an oldie but a goodie, and still as relevant as ever… Just over 10 years ago, Australian researchers showed that our performance at the end of the day, on a day where we’ve decided to stay up late, was similar to our performance when driving drunk.  Essentially they compared how we function when given a placebo drink, at different levels of alcohol intoxication, and when we are asked to stay awake for long periods of time.  Not surprisingly, our performance on a range of simple and complex tasks gets worse as our blood alcohol levels (BAC) increase.  However, our performance also gets worse the longer we stay awake.  These individuals woke up at the beginning of their normal day, stayed awake all day and then were asked to stay up through the following night.  All up, they … Read More

Spring forward, fall back: Daylight savings transition - Sleep on it

Mar 30, 2012

Whenever there is a pending change to or from Daylight Savings Time (DST), there is often discussion about the effects this will have on our sleep.  It is fair to say that there is generally less concern with the transition we are about to experience (from DST to Standard Time).  Most people simply don’t worry about it and look forward to an extra hour of sleep.  Fewer adverse outcomes arise from the transition from DST, than the transition to DST*.  That said, changes in sleep and performance are still experienced.  These fall into two categories: (a) the changes we experience from the shift in the day/night cycle compared to the timing of our own internal body clock, and (b) the effects of our behavioural responses to transitions to and from DST.  This Sunday’s change from DST to Standard Time requires our body … Read More

The (supposed) myth of the 8-hour sleep - Sleep on it

Mar 12, 2012

Last week a sleep colleague and I gave a presentation to a group of GPs.  It was one of those slightly disorganised things where you know what you’re presenting but not a great deal about anyone else’s presentation.  Our introduction by a GP colleague of ours gave a light-hearted overview of the importance of sleep… including a recent discovery that our belief that we need 8 hours sleep was a myth.  I felt slightly panicked at this suggestion.  In most part because I couldn’t believe I had missed a news story this big.  Had I really not been paying attention to my RSS feeds that week?  However, after a quick search, this is what I found: BBC News Magazine: The myth of the eight-hour sleep ** Reading this title, what’s your first thought?  … Read More

Chill out with melatonin-laced brownies? - Sleep on it

May 18, 2011

To the casual observer, it may appear that some months ago I started to blog on sleep, wrote a few posts… and then simply disappeared from the blogosphere.  Unfortunately, April was a month of over-commitment on my part (I’m really good at that).  But, I’m back… During the last few days, my Google reader has been filled with reports of a controversial new brownie (‘Lazy Cakes’) available for sale in the United States.  This latest edition adds to a range of baked goods and/or dietary supplements aimed to promote relaxation and therefore supposedly, sleep. Sold at supermarkets, and department and convenience stores, Lazy Cakes contain ingredients the manufacturers believe promote relaxation, such as valerian root, rose hips and melatonin.  Although not explicitly cited on the Lazy Cakes website, web commentary has suggested that these products may be used to … Read More