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The biology of sleep

A seminar on sleep - why we need it, what happens when we don’t get enough, and how to tackle sleep disorders

  • Tuesday 23rd July 2019 12:00 (2 hours)
  • Event
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Event details

At the next Imperial College Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) seminar, an expert from the Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust will pair up with an academic from Imperial College London to talk about their latest work on understanding why people need sleep and new ways of treating the common condition obstructive sleep apnoea.

One in three people in the UK suffers from poor sleep. Many effects of poor sleep such as reduced mood and concentration are well known, but regular poor sleep can put people at risk of serious medical conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it even shortens life expectancy.

Why do we sleep?

Professor Nick Franks, Professor of Biophysics and Anaesthetics at Imperial College London, will talk about his work on understanding why we need to sleep and what happens when we do.

Sleep is vital for good health but despite decades of research, scientists still can't agree its purpose. Some argue that it is necessary to reset connections between brain cells and suggest that while we sleep we process information from the previous day, allowing us to form new memories. Another theory states that sleep exists to repair damage in the body and brain that has accumulated while awake.

Professor Franks will discuss the different theories as well as the latest theory that sleep is essential for clearing damage proteins and waste from the brain. He will outline how this theory could lead to developing new ways of treating a range of diseases that could be linked to poor sleep such as dementia

Professor Franks will also discuss the problems that are known to occur when people don't get enough sleep, and whether this causes cognitive problems in the short or long term.

Obstructive sleep apnoea

Professor Mary Morrell, Professor of Sleep and Respiratory Physiology at the National Heart and Lung Institute, will talk about her work on using a continuous positive airway pressure device to treat obstructive sleep apnoea in older patients.

Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is a condition where the walls of the throat relax and narrow during sleep, interrupting normal breathing and causing profound sleepiness. It can affect quality of life and lead to serious conditions. For people with moderate or severe OSA, doctors usually recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, which consists of a small pump that delivers pressurised air into the nose through a mask, stopping the throat from closing.

Previous studies have established the benefits of CPAP in middle-aged people with OSA, but until now there has been no research on whether the treatment is useful and cost-effective for older patients.

The new research found that CPAP reduces how sleepy patients feel in the daytime and reduces healthcare costs. Professor Morrell will argue that CPAP should be offered to older patients with OSA, and more should be done to raise awareness of the condition.

Will I get anything for taking part?

Travel expenses to this event will not be covered. However, a light lunch and refreshments will be served following the presentations.

When and where?

Tuesday, 23 July 2019
12:00 - 2:00pm BST

Royal Brompton Hospital,
Seminar Rooms 1 and 2,
Sydney Street,


  • Royal Brompton Hospital (Seminar Rooms 1 and 2)
  • Sydney Street
  • London
  • SW3 6NP

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