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The book explores the ancient relationship between sleep and storytelling. Image credit: 

Scientists and fiction writers unite for sleep anthology

Scientists from the University of Exeter have joined forces with storytellers to explore the link between sleep and fiction in a new book about the science of sleep.

Professor Ed Watkins and Professor Adam Zeman feature alongside fiction authors to create Spindles, an anthology of stories which takes inspiration from new research into the many functions of sleep and the problems posed by its associated disorders.

The book explores the ancient relationship between sleep and storytelling. Sleep experts provide commentary on fictional stories that investigate sleep and the challenges created by our increasingly 24 hour lifestyles.

Professor Watkins, a leading authority on mood disorders research at the University of Exeter, provided commentary on two stories which examine the link between depression and sleep disturbance. ‘The Trees in the Wood’ by Lisa Blower focuses on the subject of sleep deprivation and builds on the known effects of insomnia on mood. ‘My Soul to Keep’ by Martyn Bedford looks at the problem of excessive sleeping, known as hypersomnia, and its association with mood disorders.

Professor Watkins who is also Director of Research for Clinical Professional Doctorates at the University and Director of SMART (Study of Maladaptive to Adaptive Repetitive Thought) Lab, said: “I am delighted that this book will help progress our understanding of sleep and associated conditions by bringing together art and science to explore our changing understanding of what sleep is. It is particularly important that this collaboration helps to increase awareness of the close links between disturbed sleep and low mood.

“This approach is an innovative way of bringing science into fiction and enabling researchers to highlight the issues around sleep research through storytelling, supported with clinical and scientific detail in expert afterwords .“

The book also looks at how our scientific understanding of sleep has been revolutionised over the last ten years from simple rest and recuperation to a dynamic period of brain activity, and how storytelling is beginning to respond to this new and emerging science of sleep. It also touches on sleep as an intervention covering research into sleep engineering, overnight therapies and future-tech ways of harnessing sleep’s problem solving powers.

Adam Zeman, Professor of Cognitive and Behavioural Neurology at the University of Exeter Medical School, who runs a clinic for patients with neurological sleep disorders, contributed to the story ‘Narcolepsy’ by Man-Booker Prize nominee, Deborah Levy.

Professor Zeman said: “I was delighted to contribute an Afterword to Spindles. Narcolepsy is a condition that results, among other symptoms, in vivid dream-like experiences occurring on the cusp between waking and sleep: this short story cleverly captures the dream-haunted experience of sufferers. The Afterword also discusses the highly effective treatments now available for this fascinating and distinctive disorder which, untreated, can have a huge impact on quality of life.’

The book also features scientific contributions from other sleep experts including Professor Robert Stickgold (Harvard), Professor Russell Foster (Oxford), Dr Paul Reading (President of the British Sleep Society).

Supported by the Wellcome Trust, Spindles: Stories from the Science of Sleep is published by Comma Press and will be available to buy from 26 November 2015.

Date: 4 December 2015

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