With recently awarded funding from The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH), Sleep and the Rhythms of Life aims to foreground the centrality of sleep for humanistic inquiry. In scientific and medical research, sleep has emerged as an important field of research. It has been demonstrated that sleep is no luxury but plays an essential role in mental and physical health, memory formation, cognitive regeneration, and the creation of new ideas. Sleep counts as a physiological process, but it is also shaped by cultural practices, norms, and discourses. Scholars in the humanities not only make an important contribution to contextualizing, historicizing, and stimulating scientific studies, but they also bring to the table a powerful toolkit for the analysis of representations of (troubled) sleep at the level of aesthetic form, social discourse, and cultural diversity across the globe. Humanistic work recovers forgotten dimensions of earlier scientific practices and highlights the ongoing relevance of concepts from the past, as in the case of sleep hygiene. For this reason, the humanities provide “a helpful context for considering current anxieties regarding ‘epidemics of sleeplessness’ [...] or the impact of technology on sleep” (Shuttleworth and Foster 2020, 3). Furthermore, humanistic inquiry unlocks the cultural archives and throws light on how art works—as institutions of third-order observation (Alt 2004)—encode social rhythms and reflect troubled and good sleep across the world. If the sciences teach us how sleep works at a mechanistic level, art works such as literature reveal what this means for different people in different circumstances, while music explores the fundamental role played by rhythm in bodily and aesthetic life.
Sleep and the Rhythms of Life has established strong links in medicine and science as well as in the humanities. Participants from medicine and science include Prof Vladyslav Vyazovskiy (Physiology), Dr Aarti Jagannath (Clinical Neurosciences), Dr Sridhar Vasudevan (Pharmacology), Dr Haram Park (Physiology: JRF), and Prof David Ray (Endocrinology). Participants from the humanities include Prof Eric Clarke (Music), Prof Caroline Warman (French), Dr Simon Kemp (French), and Chloe Nahum (English: DPhil). The network will run academic and public engagement activities and provide the springboard for an application for external funding.