Why blog about sleep?

By Karyn O'Keeffe 09/03/2011

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.

0 Responses to “Why blog about sleep?”

  • Welcome Karyn! I’ve always wanted to know what happens when someone goes through sleep-paralysis. I have had sleep-paralysis since I was 19, but I have never been able to find decent information as to what causes it. Perhaps if you have some knowledge of it you could write a blogpost about it someday? I’d love to know more. Cheers.

  • glad to have to onboard Karyn, particularly currently as my girlfriend has taken to listening to Paul McKenna’s trance podcasts to try and cure her insomnia. It sort of works for her, but I find his voice kind of creepy…

    • Thanks Jared. I’d be happy to blog about sleep paralysis some time. It’s reasonably common and one of approximately 80 known sleep disorders. We are still learning about the brain processes that control it but I’d be happy to share what we already know.

  • Hi Karyn,

    Just kidding: please tell me you’ve named your blog after Meat Loaf’s Paradise by the Dashboard LIght 🙂

    Seriously, welcome & good to have you join us.

  • Great song! I did actually have a quick look through my song collection for inspiration and came across sleep on it by saving jane. That said, I think something a little more rock n’ roll is more me. Perhaps I could have a blog theme song 😉

  • hI there
    I go to bed each night with a CPAP machine .Wlil be geat to hear your comments on this sleep problem some time
    Cheers now Cliff

    • Hi Cliff. I’d be happy to talk about obstructive sleep apnoea and its treatment. It’s an area I am very passionate about. For the last 10 years, I have worked full-time (and then half-time when for a brief period I thought two jobs would be a good idea) as a Clinical Sleep Physiologist at WellSleep, University of Otago Wellington’s sleep clinic, diagnosing and treating those with sleep disorders. Most recently, I was responsible for the clinic’s provision of technical follow-up and patient support for those initiating treatment, such as CPAP. We have also recently completed research investigating factors that affect adherence to CPAP and I’d be happy to share that with you once it’s published.

  • Karyn, you may be interested in the following paper:

    Sleep spindles are bursts of sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) quasirhythmic activity within the frequency band of 11-16 Hz, characterized by progressively increasing, then gradually decreasing amplitude. The purpose of the present study was to process sleep spindles with Independent Component Analysis (ICA) in order to investigate the possibility of extracting, through visual analysis of the spindle EEG and visual selection of Independent Components (ICs), spindle “components” (SCs) corresponding to separate EEG activity patterns during a spindle, and to investigate the intracranial current sources underlying these SCs. Current source analysis using Low-Resolution Brain Electromagnetic Tomography (LORETA) was applied to the original and the ICA-reconstructed EEGs. Results indicated that SCs can be extracted by reconstructing the EEG through back-projection of separate groups of ICs, based on a temporal and spectral analysis of ICs. The intracranial current sources related to the SCs were found to be spatially stable during the time evolution of the sleep spindles.

    “Independent component analysis for source localization of EEG sleep spindle components”

    I’m not a biologist, but signal processing is my domain. ICA (Independent component analysis) is a very popular algorithm for signal processing application today. It has other use apart from signal processing alone, such as portfolio financial risk assessment in finance, climate data analysis, text search engine, bio-informatics (Grant Jacobs may find ICA interest to his area) and many more applications…

    If your department, doesn’t have expertise on ICA, then perhaps you can talk to Prof. Graeme Wake at Massey’s Institute of Information & Mathematical Sciences, I’m sure they will know. May be you can collaborate with researchers from there.

    Last week I had a conversation to a Master’s student at Auck Uni from the psychology department and he told me that he is working on brain-waves. He said that his supervisor told him to use PCA (principal component analysis), but I mentioned that he should check out ICA, which is more robust than PCA. I recommended to him that he should get in touch with either the signal processing group at the Physics department or the signal processing group at the school of engineering , Electrical & Electronics department.

    Also, check out :

    “Laboratory for Advanced Brain Signal Processing”

    Most of their papers are available for free-download including software in algorithms they have developed, such as the ICA toolbox.


    • Thanks Falafulu. Our laboratory uses ICA, along with other advanced signal processing techniques, to investigate various aspects of EEG. We are also currently working with Riken on one of our projects.