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Sleep Becoming A More Visible Topic With The Public

Washington State University

Scientists are trying to understand why animals, including human beings, sleep. There’s more to it than just simply resting a tired body.

Researchers at the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University Spokane (above) are wrestling with some of its basic mechanisms. They’re also testing their hypotheses about how tired people perform in industries such as policing and transportation.

In the last few years, scientists have determined that seven or eight hours is the optimum amount of sleep for human beings. And they’ve figured out that people who consistently get less than that usually don’t perform life tasks as well as they could.

Those are the simple takeaways from sleep research and they’ve gotten people talking about sleep, which is gratifying to researchers such as Ken Wright, who directs the University of Colorado’s Sleep and Chronobiology Lab.

“We know now that sleep’s involved in so many aspects of our normal health and physiology," Wright said. "And so, yeah, I think sleep and the circadian system and circadian rhythms is a very hot field.”

Wright was one of the guest panelists at a recent retreat of Washington State University sleep scientists.

The public profile of sleep science was also elevated by the recent Nobel Prize awarded to scientists studying circadian rhythms, also known as our body clock.

Wright says wearable technologies, such as FitBit, also make sleep and the need for and pursuit of it more accessible to the average person.

“I think if we can take those to the next level and record many things and add that to all this data that we have on people’s health and mix that together, that is going to lead to breakthroughs in terms of understanding sleep in the modern world,” he said.

You can hear more of this discussion on this week's Inland Journal, Thursday at noon on KPBX and at 5 pm on KSFC.