Call for participants: Inner experience in epilepsy

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Researchers at Hubbub are interested in finding out more about the day-to-day experience of living with epilepsy. The study involves wearing a beeper for a week and having a daily interview about your experiences with a researcher. This technique is called Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES).

We are asking a range of people with experience of epilepsy with ongoing seizures to take part in the study. In particular, we are interested in hearing from anyone aged over 18 who would answer yes to the following statement:

Do you have at least one seizure per month?

If you are interested in taking part, please contact Prof Charles Fernyhough by email or contact our research team on 0207 611 8290.

For further information and support on the topic of epilepsy, please visit Epilepsy Action

Thinking at the speed of thought | Patrick Coyle

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thinking  ’  at the speed of thought  ’  I mean  ’  obviously we can’t  ’  nobody can really  ’  speak at the speed of thought  ’  there’s not really such thing as a  ’  a stream  ’  of consciousness  ’  I mean it’s a  ’  it’s a  ’  it could be  ’  described as a method in literary terms or perhaps  ’  even  ’  in  ’  the realm of  ’  psychoanalysis  ’  er  ’  it could be  ’  referred to  ’  I mean  ’  the stream of consciousness  ’  could be referred to as  ’  a technique  ’  erm  ’  but  ’  free association is  ’  probably more accurate in that context  ’  actually  ’  but  ’  also  ’  zebras  ’  wow  ’  I see  ’  zebras  ’  just right by  ’  very close to the road  ’  and of course the  ’  the stream isn’t really  ’  there and  ’  at all  ’  I mean it  ’  we just think in waves or  ’  pulses more  ’  and  ’  then  ’  of course as soon as  ’  those  ’  waves or pulses of thought are verbalized they  ’  no longer  ’  they’re  ’  well they’re nowhere near  ’  I mean  ’  I would never  ’  argue this as a  ’  accurate  ’  depiction  ’  or  ’  erm  ’  what’s the word  ’  not depiction but  ’  I wouldn’t even argue it as  ’  an accurate  ’  illustration of  ’  stream of consciousness  ’  thought  ’  erm  ’  it’s  ’  just  ’  me  ’  thinking  ’  while running  ’  and then saying  ’  some of the thoughts  ’  that come across my mind  ’  for example  ’  as I was saying that  ’  I was actually thinking about  ’  some conkers growing on a tree and a sculpture  ’  a bench of  ’  a lion  ’  or some other animal and  ’  then  ’  of course while I was  ’  saying that I was  ’  actually thinking about  ’  erm  ’  a dried-up  ’  conker tree  ’  or is that horse chestnut leaf  ’  that had gone very  ’  orangey brown  ’  and then  ’  connecting that with a  ’  wooden  ’   sculpture of a fox  ’  which  ’  erm  ’  as  ’  I was saying that I was just  ’  really  ’  not thinking much I was looking at  ’  a tennis court  ’  and  ’  erm  ’  something on the floor  ’  probably a  ’  a yoghurt  ’  pot  ’  and  ’  and so on  ’  and so on and  ’  the BT Tower  ’  and  ’  the  ’  two people  ’  wearing  ’  very similar T-shirts  ’  and shorts and  ’  seagulls  ’  and then  ’  the  ’  dark clouds gathering  ’  in the distance  ’  and  ’  the  ’  clear plastic cup and  ’  I think that’s a swallow  ’  and the trees  ’  and so on  ’  erm  ’  I probably shouldn’t do that for the whole  ’  twenty  ’  to twenty five minutes  ’  of speaking  ’  because  ’  well we’re already at  ’  sixteen minutes  ’  and nineteen seconds  ’  so  ’  still not really sure how that’s going to  ’  translate  ’  and  ’  I’m also not really sure if I have  ’  time today to  ’  transcribe  ’  the whole thing because  ’  that’s  ’  already probably  ’  a good  ’  hour and a half  ’  of writing  ’  because I’m not that fast and I don’t have  ’  erm  ’  oh  ’  well  ’   maybe I could try the  ’  erm  ’  speech  ’  software but  ’  even that will probably involve me  ’  speaking  ’  well listening back to this  ’  with earphones  ’  and then speaking it  ’  back  ’  to my  ’  computer  ’  more clearly than  ’  my breathy  ’  slurry voice  ’  and  ’  that’s  ’  one of those things that can’t be  ’  erm  ’  can’t be  ’  erm  ’  illustrated  ’  or depicted

Follow Patrick on Twitter @patricoyle

Hubbub launches The Rest Test to uncover the world’s resting habits

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The Rest Test is an online survey to investigate the nation’s resting habits and their attitudes towards relaxation and busyness. It is part of a wider collaboration between BBC Radio 4, Hubbub and Wellcome Trust.

With thousands of people expected to take part, this will be the world’s largest ever survey into subjective experiences of rest.

It comes at a time when the topic of rest is at the forefront of many people’s minds. Interest in self-tracking tools such as Fitbits is soaring and wellbeing has become a matter of public policy with an all-party parliamentary group exploring the benefits of mindfulness. There is increasing scrutiny of working patterns, whether through Virgin’s new annual leave policy allowing staff to take as much holiday as they need or the move to a six hour working day by Swedish companies.

The results will increase understanding of people’s perceptions of rest and the way these relate to an individual’s work or daily habits, as well as their experiences of health, illness, disability, satisfaction with life and the tendency to mind wander.

The kinds of questions the survey will address include:

  • How does rest affect health and wellbeing?
  • How do people vary in what they experience as restful?
  • Does an individual’s personality, health history and caring responsibilities have an effect on how much rest they get or the kinds of activities they find restful?
  • How do attitudes to and experiences of rest vary between different countries in the world?

Members of the public are invited to contribute their experiences of seeking rest and explore how they compare with others. They will also be encouraged to discuss the topic online and to share images of themselves at rest around the world using the hashtag #RestTest.

Claudia Hammond, presenter of Radio 4’s All in the Mind and associate director of Hubbub, explains: “Rest is widely regarded as important to our wellbeing but there’s so much we don’t know about it. We vary a lot in how much time we have to spend resting and even what we consider it to be. Running might feel relaxing to one person, but exhausting to another. Sometimes we want to calm our minds, while at other times we focus on letting our bodies recover. The test will help us find out more about our relationships with rest and how it affects all our lives.”

Simon Chaplin, director of Society and Culture at the Wellcome Trust, said: “The Wellcome Trust supports a wide range of research exploring ideas around health and well-being. Projects such as the Rest Test provide a different perspective on what we mean when we talk about being mentally or physically well, and the impact that rest or busyness has on us as individuals.”

The questionnaire is split into two parts, with an initial section taking 5-10 minutes, followed by more in-depth questions which can be completed in stages.

The results will be analysed and announced on All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 in April 2016.

Hubbub researchers Giulia Poerio, Louise Gregor, Ben Alderson-Day, Jonny Smallwood, Des Fitzgerald and Josh Berson led on the development of the test, with support from Hubbub Co-Investigators Charles Fernyhough, Claudia Hammond, Felicity Callard and Daniel Margulies. Hubbub would like to thank staff at Wellcome Trust and Durham University for their help in launching The Rest Test and piloting the survey in its development phase.

The Rest Test can be taken on the BBC Radio 4 website and at

Contact Hubbub Project Coordinator Kimberley Staines with queries about The Rest Test

The Rest Test is now closed. Thank you to everyone who took part.

“Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences”: Open Access Book by Felicity Callard and Des Fitzgerald published today

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Rethinking Interdisciplinarity across the Social Sciences and Neurosciences, co-authored by Felicity Callard (Director of Hubbub; Reader in Social Science for Medical Humanities at the Department of Geography and Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University) and Des Fitzgerald (Lecturer in Sociology, Cardiff University; Hubbub collaborator) offers a provocative account of interdisciplinary research across the neurosciences, social sciences and humanities. Setting itself against standard accounts of interdisciplinary ‘integration,’ and rooting itself in the authors’ own experiences, the book establishes a radical agenda for collaboration across these disciplines.

Rethinking Interdisciplinarity does not merely advocate interdisciplinary research, but attends to the hitherto tacit pragmatics, affects, power dynamics, and spatial logics in which that research is enfolded. Understanding the complex relationships between brains, minds, and environments requires a delicate, playful and genuinely experimental interdisciplinarity, and this book shows us how it can be done.

The book was written entirely within the collaborative space of The Hub at Wellcome Collection in the context of Hubbub’s residency there. Felicity and Des draw on their extensive history of organizing interdisciplinary events across the social sciences and neurosciences (often in collaboration with others from Hubbub; see for example: Experimental Entanglements in Cognitive Neuroscience, and Neurocritiques? Neuroentanglements? Thinking through Collaboration with Cognitive Neuro-Sciences/Scientists) and of writing about them (see, in particular, Des Fitzgerald and Felicity Callard (2015) “Social Science and Neuroscience Beyond Interdisciplinarity: Experimental Entanglements”, published Open Access in Theory, Culture & Society).

The book’s chapters are:

– Introduction: Not Another Book About Interdisciplinarity

  1. Meeting People is Easy: The Pragmatics of Interdisciplinary Collaboration
  2. “Which Way Does It Go Between You Two?”: Modes of Interdisciplinary Intervention
  3. Environmental Entanglements: Neurological Lives and Social Worlds
  4. States of Rest: Interdisciplinary Experiments
  5. Choreographing the Interdisciplinary
  6. Against Reciprocity: Dynamics of Power in Interdisciplinary Spaces
  7. Feeling Fuzzy: The Emotional Life of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

– Epilogue

This book is published by Palgrave Macmillan within its innovative Pivot format — which allows authors to publish at lengths of between 25,000 and 50,000 words and to take advantage of a swift and flexible publication process that dramatically reduces publication times. The book is published open access under a CC-BY license and is funded by The Wellcome Trust in the context of the Hubbub grant.

Felicity and Des will be discussing “Rethinking Interdisciplinarity”, Open Access, and cross-disciplinary academic publishing at Wellcome Collection on 13 November at “The Changing Face of Academic Research and Publishing: Creating a Dialogue around the Book (London)”. You can book a free place here.

Felicity and Des warmly welcome your thoughts on and reactions to the book. They are also very grateful to many from Hubbub who commented on drafts of the book, and whose work in collaboration with both authors have been central to the book’s development.

@felicitycallard and @Des_Fitzgerald are on Twitter

Sonic atmospheres: the science of ambient music | Charles Fernyhough

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Although resisting an easy definition, the genre of ambient music is characterised as emphasising the sonic and atmospheric effects of the music rather than traditional architectures of melody, harmony and rhythm. In the words of one of its pioneers, Brian Eno, ‘Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.’ In its relative lack of emphasis on repeated tunes and beats, ambient music is targeted at the periphery rather than at the centre of conscious experience.

The research project in Hubbub is investigating topics such the relation between the shifting periodicities of ambient music and the changing rhythms of conscious experience, and how and in what contexts these can have restful and restorative effects. We plan to extend these investigations into studies of neural connectivity in the ‘resting state’: the dynamic, fearsomely complex and increasingly well-studied patterns of activation shown by a brain that is not performing any specific task. We are employing new methodologies for assessing these nuances of subjective experience (both for audience and performers) in a scientifically rigorous manner, as well as exploring implications for clinical interventions.

The musicians have taken advantage of the generous spaces available to create improvised music in the Hub itself. Listen here to a piece we produced in the Hub when we settled in one night in April to create some ephemeral, shifting sounds.

Darkroom are interrupting a tour promoting their new album The Rest is Noise to perform with me in a sequence of three extended sets at the Hubbub Late Spectacular on Friday 4 September. Come and hear the sounds of improvised ambient music, and get a chance to give your feedback on the psychological and emotional effects of listening to this kind of music. Free admission.

Follow Charles on Twitter @cfernyhough

Making lullabies with Hubbub | Holly Pester

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The Lullaby Workshops have brought together members of Hubbub including poets, artists, sociologists, cultural historians and composers to collaborate in devising an expanded field for what might be thought of as a lullaby.

What and who do lullabies represent in culture? Through personal testimony and intuitive research we saw these cradle songs as portraits of socio-economic conditions of the time in which they were sung, which often reflect the roles and work of family members at that time. We shared lullabies that represented the gendered histories of the social factory; ‘Father’s gone a hunting/fishing/drinking’, ‘go to sleep so I can clean/mend/cook dumplings for you’, etc. We shared lullabies that contained a threat, a curse or a prayer. We shared dark lullabies of horror and anxiety, as well as ones of material promise and market cure. Each one contained a folk memory that showed us the scene of two bodies in isolation, yet also pointed towards a trans-historical network of sailors, traders, drinkers, domestic workers, sleepers and nomads.

We thought about the contemporary condition of labourers and their dependents, and we thought about what our fully-grown bodies would need from a song that could transfer us into a rest state. In the Lullaby Workshop we are parents, workers, artists, academics; people with privilege in the neo-liberal context we sing from, which must be recognised in our relationship with work and its converses. Through our collaborative workshops we ultimately considered the lullaby as a scene of bodies standing, swaying, rocking and reclining in relation to one another.

Definitions of this expanded notion of lullaby have ranged from:

A (mother’s) work song
A rhythmical sonic object that moves two bodies towards a “compromise of tensions”
A protest song
A radical refusal
An act of affective labour
A gift
An anti-work song
A technology
A machine
A folk art

Our method of research was to scout for materials, in and around the cultural field of cradlesongs and improvise through our mostly non-expert use of song and vocal experiment. We took text from works of historical scholarship, lines from our childhood memories and consumer feedback relating to a modern sleep aid for babies. Through this practice we developed knowledge and understanding, as well as a community of voices around fragments of text. We employed concepts and poetics of exhaustion, harmony, repetition and chorality.

We have collected the recordings, and left them in a state of raw edits, with our laughter, errors and general unravelling maintained in the audio. The sound files will be installed in the Hubbub Late on September 4th, and titled ‘Workshop Lullabies’ to maintain the integrity of the work-in-process nature, as well as our resistance to claim any definitive idea of the lullaby; something so plural and largely outside official cultural histories.

Follow Holly on Twitter @hollypesty

Understanding the wandering mind | Jonny Smallwood

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On the 6th of July a large number of my collaborators and I descended on The Hub at Wellcome Collection to jointly consider progress made in the exploration of the mind-wandering state in terms of its experiential content, neural basis and cultural and functional significance. The workshop brought together psychologists and researchers from a range of disciplines, including the social sciences and the arts. From the perspective of a scientist who has worked in this area it was an amazing opportunity to see just how far the discipline has come in the last decade. It felt like a watershed moment in the understanding of the way that spontaneous thought works. One of the points of discussion that made the meeting so special was the way that different research traditions have begun to converge on this question. For example, the work of two of my closest colleagues (Beth Jefferies and Daniel Margulies) illustrate how this convergence can work in practice.

I’ll start by looking at Beth Jefferies, whose work on semantic knowledge began with a neuropsychological exploration of the deficits that occur through damage to different cortical regions, focusing on cases of semantic dementia and semantic aphasia. The work of Beth and her colleagues has converged on a model of semantic knowledge that emphasises both how the mind represents conceptual information and how this information can be used in the service of different goals. This account of semantic processing provides an excellent candidate account of the internal mechanics of thought – not least because the elegant work conducted by Beth and others has provided a very detailed understanding of how thoughts emerge and are controlled – and this highly detailed account complements the less specified accounts that exist to describe the mind-wandering state. This synthesis between the mind-wandering state and conceptual processing is an interesting development in my work and one that I am really excited about.

The work of Daniel Margulies, on the other hand, has helped provide a detailed account of the functional architecture within the mind-wandering state. Daniel’s work has developed several important methods for determining how structure and function are related. In particular,​ his work has provided a nuanced understanding of the cortical evolution that has allowed the brain to develop the capacity to perform computations that are decoupled from inputs key to the mind-wandering state. A key aspect of Daniel’s research that makes it appealing to me as a view within which to understand the mind-wandering state is that it focuses on how the topographical organisation of the different large scale network can help constrain the specific functions it performs. To a researcher looking at the mind-wandering state who has emphasised that this experience needs to be understood as a corollary of the way that thinking emerges in the context of more external or goal orientated states, the architectural constraints on function is an exciting development in understanding the mind-wandering state, not as an isolated experiential state, but as an emergent property of a neural system that deals flexibly with both internal and external tasks.

Another highlight of the day was the range of excellent work by the many people working on mind-wandering, both with me in the Department of Psychology at University of York, and elsewhere. The talks given by the various participants were exciting, not only because they provided important evidence on how interesting the mind-wandering state is, but also because of the enthusiasm and engagement that this group of young researchers brought to the day. As a veteran researcher in this field, what was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the day at The Hub was that the future of mind-wandering is in good hands.

Follow Jonny Smallwood on Twitter @the_mindwanders

Soundings: Hubbub collaborates with Wellcome Library

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Soundings is a series of collaborative sound performances devised by Hubbub resident poet SJ Fowler in response to prompts – including images, manuscripts and books – chosen by Wellcome Library staff from their collections.

Each interaction will begin with library staff using their expertise to suggest items from the Library’s collections in response to a title inspired by our research strands. These prompts will form the basis for a public performance of sound poetry, devised by Fowler in collaboration with other poets, vocalists and sound artists.

Over the course of a year, Fowler will work with fellow Hubbub collaborators Emma Bennett, Patrick Coyle and Tamarin Norwood, as well as performers from the worlds of sound poetry, experimental music and sonic art such as Dylan Nyoukis and Sharon Gal. Soundings is curated by Kimberley Staines, James Wilkes, Felicity Callard and Harriet Martin.

All events are free.

Upcoming performances:

Restless Cities
SJ Fowler and Emma Bennett
Date: 18 August 2015
Time: 1.15pm – 1.45pm
Location: Camley Street Natural Park, 12 Camley Street, London N1C 4PW

Enforced Rest
SJ Fowler and Dylan Nyoukis
Date: 4 September 2015
Time: 7pm-11pm (two 10-minute performances as part of the Hubbub Late Spectacular, an evening showcasing Hubbub’s research to date)
Location: Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

In a Silent Way
SJ Fowler and Maja Jantar
Date: 18 November 2015
Time: 8pm start
Location: St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9PA

Hubbub, Workfare and BMJ Critical Medical Humanities

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Earlier this month saw the release of Critical Medical Humanities, a special edition of BMJ Medical Humanities. This special edition features work by Hubbub collaborator and inequalities researcher, Lynne Friedli, working with Robert Stearn of Birkbeck, University of London, in the form of the paper, Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes.’

Lynne and Robert’s article has received considerable public attention and a summary of the various press releases and responses is outlined here.

Critical Medical Humanities was guest edited by Hubbub’s own Felicity Callard and Angela Woods, alongside Will Viney, also of Durham University, and features an article authored by the three guest editors which forms part of Hubbub research.

The release is accompanied by a podcast on the subject of workfare and associated psychological practices featuring Lynne, Robert and Angela.

Follow @lynnefriedli on Twitter

Dreaming of Electric Sheep | Estrid Jakobsen

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These days, anyone who regularly uses the internet or reads the news is faced with a barrage of unsolicited advice about how to get more and better quality sleep, sometimes in a way that suggests that better sleep is the key to a better life. With headlines such as “Five things that stop a good night’s sleep” and “Ten reasons why you’re not getting a good night’s sleep”, it’s hard not to feel like you’re doing it all wrong, even if you don’t feel as though sleep (or lack thereof) is a considerable problem in your daily life. Is reading on your smartphone or tablet before bed really killing you? Or is it a harmless habit as long as you dim the lights and hold it a foot away from your face? Will wearing socks to bed change your life by helping you fall asleep a few minutes faster, or will it just give you uncomfortably warm feet? How are we supposed to know what to believe when it comes to our coveted beauty sleep?

Although often contradictory, the one thing that most advice on sleep has in common is that it targets the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the feeling of sleepiness and the onset of sleep. When light strikes the retina of the eye, special photoreceptors called melanopsin cells convert the light energy into a neural impulse, which travels to a region of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). This tiny structure is often referred to as the “body clock” as it is responsible for a number of complex interactions controlling our sleep-wake cycles such as the regulation of body temperature and the secretion of hormones. One of these mechanisms is the synthesis and secretion of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. During hours of daylight, the SCN inhibits melatonin secretion by the pineal gland, keeping us awake and alert during the day. Accordingly, with decreasing levels of light in the evening and at night, melatonin production is increased, making us feel drowsy and encouraging our bodies to go to sleep. This melatonin regulation circuit is the main target of a booming industry of so-called natural sleep aids.

Direct ingestion of melatonin has been shown to be remarkably effective in preventing or reducing jet-lag by helping to re-align the body’s rhythms with the day-night cycle of the travel destination. In the United States and Canada, melatonin tablets are sold over the counter as dietary supplements of varying strengths, right next to the multivitamins and omega 3 oils (this is in contrast to most EU countries, where a prescription is required to purchase melatonin). There even exists a melatonin spray, optimistically named Sprayable Sleep. Inspired by the recent discovery of cutaneous melatonin receptors, the spray is meant to be applied to the skin shortly before sleep, and claims to help you “fall asleep naturally and wake up refreshed”. Other types of natural sleep aids target the influence of light on the melatonin circuit by minimizing exposure to certain wavelengths before bedtime. The melanopsin cells in the retina are most sensitive to blue light, the same wavelengths emitted by the back-lit screens of laptops, tablets, and smartphones, as well as some types of fluorescent or energy-efficient light bulbs. Blue light is interpreted by the SCN as daylight, which suppresses melatonin production and keeps you awake. Unsurprisingly, this finding has triggered a wealth of discussion on how blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, which could have serious health implications, especially for teenagers (For a related and comprehensive discussion of whether or not screens are harmful for young people, tune in to the latest episode of All in the Mind on BBC Radio 4 by Hubbub core group member Claudia Hammond). By filtering out the ‘bad’ wavelengths of light, a number of commercial products such as amber-lensed blue light filtering goggles and UV/blue-safe light bulbs aim to stimulate melatonin production without the need for ingestible supplements. The more fashion conscious consumer might instead opt for an app that adjusts the screen colors on your backlit devices according to the time of day and your regular sleep/wake schedule, or the low-tech alternative of a stick-on blue-blocking screen filter.

As a scientist, I know that the melatonin circuit is the biological driving force behind our natural sleep-wake cycles. However, as someone who is prone to dozing off during movies played from a blue-light emitting computer screen, and at other times unable to fall asleep in complete darkness, I can’t help but feel a certain degree of scepticism about the supposed prominence of their role in regulating my own body clock. It is important to remember that melatonin does not actually induce sleep, but rather signals to the brain and body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. For this reason, melatonin will only be able to do its job within a context that encourages and invites restfulness and sleep, and the efficacy of natural sleep aids that target melatonin production is likely to be influenced by numerous environmental and psychological factors. As anyone who has experienced insomnia (whether short- or long-term) would likely agree, there’s a lot more to what’s keeping you awake at night than hormonal interactions.

In the context of the hubbub project, I’m interested in trying to disentangle the subjective experience of sleepiness (as well as sleeplessness), from the objective mechanisms that underlie them. To what extent is the quality of our sleep driven by biology, and to what extent is it driven by thought? What kinds of thoughts are keeping us awake? Are we most often ruminating over deep existential questions like the ones on this list of worries that keep people awake at night, or is our sleep just as easily disrupted by simpler distractions like the sound of a dripping tap or the length of tomorrow’s to-do list? Ironically, something that quite often keeps me awake at night are thoughts about falling asleep, and sometimes, the more important it is for me to get a good night’s sleep, the harder it is to do so. By considering these questions from an interdisciplinary perspective and situating reductionistic approaches that pervade public understanding of such topics in appropriate contexts, we might start to shed some light on what, if anything, we should be doing to improve our rest and sleep.

Follow Estrid Jakobsen @Estrid_J