Sleep science


We spend a third of our lives doing it. Everyone needs it to survive. Monash University is part of a renewed research effort to better understand sleep.

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A fter decades of research, the science of sleep has in the last five to 10 years undergone a resurgence, as scientists uncover the connection of sleep to mental and physical health.

Sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are linked to an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack and stroke. About 20 per cent of all serious car crash injuries are associated with driver fatigue.

Associate Professor Shantha Rajaratnam is an internationally renowned sleep expert and the leader of the Sleep and Chronobiology Research Group at Monash.

His team's laboratory consists of bedrooms, living areas and specialist equipment. It is an environment where individuals can be isolated from time cues for days at a time.

"Monash is ideally placed to be one of the national and international leaders in sleep research, as we already have a great deal of expertise and infrastructure available," Associate Professor Rajaratnam said.

Research by Associate Professor Rajartnam and colleagues was recently published in The Lancet. It found the drug Tasimelteon, which acts on melatonin receptors in the brain, could be a highly effective treatment for insomnia associated with jet lag and shift work.

The team, led by Dr Tracey Sletten, is now embarking upon a new project using light therapy to determine how best to improve the alertness and performance of shift workers.

"We know the photoreceptors in the eye that convey light information to the internal biological clock are most sensitive to short wavelength (or blue) light," he said.

"If we're able to gain a better understanding of the way light affects the biological clock, in particular which colours of light are most effective, then we could ultimately improve productivity and minimise accidents in the workplace."

For more information visit the Sleep and Chronobiology Research web page.