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Wild Nights: Sleep and Human Evolution – Public Lecture Anything but a Snooze Fest at Trent University Durham GTA

Pioneering sleep anthropologist, Dr. David Samson, unveils how science, history and culture shape our sleep

Throughout history and prehistory, the need for sleep left humans and animals vulnerable to their predators. From an evolutionary standpoint, there must be compelling explanation for it.  More than a dream portal, sleep is a complex process that has powerful influence over our brainpower, emotions and physical and mental health. Whether you are a prowling night owl or morning lark, sleep is crucial.

As part of the Trent University Anthropology Lecture Series, Dr. David Samson, assistant professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, shared his explorations into sleep at this free, public event held on Thursday, November 30.

 “I’m a big proponent of getting out scientific knowledge to the public,” stated Professor Samson. “It’s a moral responsibility.”  

An accomplished and renowned global researcher, Prof. Samson recalled his on-the-ground experiences while studying the sleep habits of the hunter-gatherer Hadza society in rural Africa. Having also logged over 2,000 hours of watching orangutans sleep, he described his key research with various primates.

“Just the topic itself is a unique perspective,” quipped Prof. Samson. “Figuring out that classic ‘natural’ human sleep pattern is a basic science question but also has huge impact on peoples’ health and well-being.”

The lecture also explored the evolutionary, cultural, and environmental factors that impact sleep throughout the world. It seems, not everyone sleeps throughout the night in a bed.

“Right now in Psychology we are looking at the differences between a psychologist’s and an anthropologist’s perspective so it was really interesting to see the differences between the two,” said Megan Keleman, a first-year Psychology and Sociology student. “It’s neat to have a different perspective on various places in the world.”

During the active Q&A session, the audience learned how factors such as circadian rhythms, sleep architecture, chronotypes, phylogenetics, flexible sleep patterns and sleep hygiene contribute to their own unique sleep experiences.

“There is always new information,” commented Christine Trosztmer, an Anthropology student who is interested in the study of sleep and holds multiple degrees from Trent. “Although we do have a rich faculty at Trent Durham, guest lecturers increase the current information that students are being exposed to.”

“Students were asking so many questions,” said Dr. Roger Lohmann, associate professor of Anthropology and event organizer. “I’m pleased to see they are engaged with it so much.”

Posted on December 5, 2017