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Home » Why Do We Sleep by Russell Foster (Transcript)

Why Do We Sleep by Russell Foster (Transcript)

Here is the full text and summary of Russell Foster’s talk titled “Why Do We Sleep”. In this TED talk, Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist, shares three popular theories about why we sleep, busts some myths about how much sleep we need at different ages — and hints at some bold new uses of sleep as a predictor of mental health.


Russell Foster – Circadian Neuroscientist

What I’d like to do today is talk about one of my favorite subjects, and that is the neuroscience of sleep.

Now, there is a sound — (sound of alarm clock) — aah, it worked — a sound that is desperately, desperately familiar to most of us, and of course it’s the sound of the alarm clock. And what that truly ghastly, awful sound does is stop the single most important behavioral experience that we have, and that’s sleep. If you’re an average sort of person, 36% of your life will be spent asleep, which means that if you live to 90, then 32 years will have been spent entirely asleep.

Now what that 32 years is telling us is that sleep at some level is important. And yet, for most of us, we don’t give sleep a second thought. We throw it away. We really just don’t think about sleep. And so what I’d like to do today is change your views, change your ideas and your thoughts about sleep. And the journey that I want to take you on, we need to start by going back in time.

Perception about sleep through history

“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.” Any ideas who said that? Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Yes, let me give you a few more quotes. “O sleep, O gentle sleep, nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee?” Shakespeare again, from — I won’t say it — the Scottish play. [Correction: Henry IV, Part 2] From the same time: “Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” Extremely prophetic, by Thomas Dekker, another Elizabethan dramatist.

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