Sleep Bootcamp

2018.01.26 | Anne-Mette Pedersen

Date Mon 30 Apr
Time 10:00 16:00
Location IMC Meeting Room, Jens Chr. Skous Vej 4, Building 1483-312
Registration has closed

Sleep is an inherently social state and sleeping in a social environment is the phylogenetically predominant sleeping style for primates including humans. Therefore, the social sleep environment might impact a variety of phenomena for which sleep is important, such as cognition or psychological wellbeing.

However, scientific disciplines studying social interaction or psychopathologies as well as classical sleep research have widely overlooked the close interaction between sleep and sociality. Within this bootcamp we want to explore the interaction of sociality and sleep from different angles such as sleep in different cultures, the evolutionary aspects of sleep and sociality, or the possible influence of the sleep-sociality interaction on psychiatric illnesses. 



  • Dr Brigitte Steger, University of Cambridge 
  • Professor Charles Nunn, Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and the Global Health Institute, Duke University
  • Research Lecturer Katharina Wulff, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neuroscience, University of Oxford.

Organizors: Associate Professor Christine Parsons and Visiting Researcher Henning Drews



10.00 -10.10  Andreas Roepstorff: Introduction to the day

10.10 - 10.30  Henning Drews: Is Sleep a social state?  

10.30 -11.30  Charles Nunn: Shining evolutionary light on human sleep and health

11.30 - 11.45  Interim Discussion

11.45 - 12-45  Lunch

12-45 - 2pm  Brigitte Steger: The nightmare: troubled sleep in Japanese tsunami evacuation shelters

2 - 3pm  Katharina Wullf: Sleeping sense – the interrelation of responsiveness during sleep, mental resilience and vulnerability

3 - 4 pm  General discussion


Part I: The evolutionary perspective

Shining evolutionary light on human sleep and health

Charles L. Nunn

Department of Evolutionary Anthropology and Duke Global Health Institute, Duke University

A famous sleep biologist once noted, “If sleep does not serve an absolute vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made.”  Indeed, over evolutionary time, sleep has become integrated with almost every dimension of biological function in mammals, including growth, cognition, immunity, and metabolism.  Research across mammalian species has revealed how ecological factors, including sociality and predation, influence sleep characteristics.  More recently, we have documented how many of these same selective forces have shaped the evolution of human sleep relative to other primates, resulting in a marked decline in total sleep time and an increase in the proportion of REM sleep along the human lineage.  I will present these evolutionary findings and discuss the follow-up research we have conducted in Madagascar and Tanzania to better understand the ecology of human sleep.  Collectively, our findings suggest that risks and opportunity costs have shaped human sleep in terms of duration, quality, and social patterning.  Perceptions of threat in our increasingly urban and stressful world are likely triggering many of these same effects, potentially leading to sleep disparities that drive health disparities in marginalized populations.


Part II: Sleep and society - How societal sleep habits are constructed, negotiated, and disrupted

The nightmare: troubled sleep in Japanese tsunami evacuation shelters

Brigitte Steger

Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge University


Ato wa neru dake’ – ‘And then all that’s left to do is to sleep.’ This is how two middle-aged women ended their summary of life in a small tsunami evacuation shelter in Yamada, Iwate Prefecture, Northeast Japan. Talking in mid-July 2011, four months after the large tsunami and fires of 3.11 had completely destroyed their houses, they had found a daily routine of household chores and some stability. Sleep seemed a simple matter.

However, during the night(s) following the tsunami not a single person was able to sleep peacefully. Their sleep was disrupted by continuous aftershocks, lack of comfortable bedding, cold, dirt and crowds of often noisy, barely known people. They were haunted by anxieties over the whereabouts of beloved ones (or the certainty of their death) and by ghosts; they were bewildered that they had lost home and work.

Based on long-term socio-anthropological research on sleep in the Japan, including narrative interviews and participant observation in evacuation shelters in Yamada, this lecture explores social and cultural aspects of sleep behaviour and looks closely at how sleep gets disrupted (and restored) in face of disaster.


Part III: Sleep, the (social) environment, and mental health

Katharina Wulff

Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford

Sleeping sense – the interrelation of responsiveness during sleep, mental resilience and vulnerability

Sleep affects every system in our body – from the brain to the gut microbiome, the immune system and mental wellbeing. Sleep is a remarkable state of reduced brain and body metabolism. Yet, a high level of responsiveness to environmental stimuli is retained, demonstrating the brain’s ability to continuously process sensory signals and to prompt a rapid awakening to certain stimuli.

Sleep duration, timing and arousability vary from individual to individual and across the life span amassing a diverse range of sleep patterns from long sleepers to short sleepers, early risers to late owls and deep sleepers to light sleepers. A good night’s sleep help foster both emotional and mental resilience, while perceived poor sleep set stage for emotional vulnerability for unhappy, anxious, angry or delusional mind-sets.

Backed by a wide range of high-resolution sleep studies, rest-activity monitoring and psychological measures, which are aggregated to provide most accurate predictions, this lecture explores mental health experiences with focus on how sleep affects the expression of particular mental states. It investigates perceived sleep quality as a form of arousability and examines the notion of sleep being species-specific and highly adaptive to changes in the (social) environment.