Brigid Gallagher’s recent blog post on a typical conversation at a social function had me smiling. I’m no archaeologist. In fact, the little I know about archaeology, I’ve probably gleaned from Indiana Jones (gasp!). Yet, there seemed to be so many parallels to the conversations Brigid has experienced and my own, that I couldn’t help but feel like we were on completely the same page. Perhaps I’ve misrepresented Brigid here, but my conversations have also had a quiet undertone of ‘Seriously, you waste time every day studying that?’
Until recently, I spent a good proportion of my working week as a Clinical Sleep Physiologist, a fancy way of saying that I worked in a clinical sleep laboratory diagnosing and treating those with sleep disorders. Most people are fascinated by this. Questions pour out about sleep and sleep disorders. I’m grilled on how to sleep best… and usually, am asked to interpret a few dreams. I never tire of this. I am fascinated by sleep and will talk about it endlessly. Because, though many of us consider ourselves ‘experts’ (we all sleep after all), most know very little about sleep. Thus, I am a big advocate of accurate, public information on sleep science.
Yes, science… because that’s where I usually come up against a wall. Many people don’t associate sleep with active processes, and certainly not science. That old mentality of sleep being a passive process akin to death often reigns supreme. So after I’ve got through discussing how to improve people’s sleep, I find myself kindly explaining that no, I don’t just passively watch people sleep all day, take subjective ratings about sleep quality and then guess what to do next.
Sleep lags behind other medical fields. Most of what we currently know about sleep we have learnt in the last 25 years. This means that the importance of sleep is often trivialised. And the public is fed an overabundance of misinformation about sleep every day.
Still there is hope. People are generally fascinated that I can measure sleep. Fascinated that it can be interpreted. That sleep has functions. Even more fascinated that it is vital for functioning and good health. Fascinating for me is that people will listen to me blather on about sleep for hours. And this last part gives me hope.
So I’m going to keep talking about sleep. To everyone I can. Quietly determined to get sleep on everyone’s health and safety radar.