Sleep Over // Geraldine Pilgrim

Sleep, that final frontier. We can put man on the moon, split the atom and prove that water has memory, and yet we still do not really know why we sleep. What scientists do know is that without proper sleep our cognitive ability is impaired and the middle part of the frontal lobe in our brains is affected as a build-up of proteins occurs.

To believe the media hype we are in the midst of a sleep-loss epidemic, putting us at heightened risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease and weight gain. So as part of Normal? 2018, a sleep-over was held in the auditorium of the Quaterhouse. Not for scientific analysis, just purely to emphasise and highlight the importance of sleep to our mental wellbeing.

Geraldine Pilgrim designed the installation, which looked like a cross between a field hospital and a supersized hostel/hotel room. One of the sleepers disclosed that she dreamt that the pillows came from Premier Inn and the mattresses from Dunelm - strange that we dream of such mundane things! Fourteen sleepers and one male matron hankered down for cocoa or Horlicks, bedtime stories and a recording of the old and soporific version of the shipping news, followed by seven and a half hours of undisturbed rest in comfy beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and super soft pillows. For the insomniacs a room was kitted out with food, drinks and a video diary.

At 8am, piped birdsong filled the auditorium and bodies started to move and then rise from their cotton comfort. Why though, did those who normally wake to sunrise still manage to do so despite the darkened room? At breakfast, Tim Rittman, the in-house neurologist answered questions on sleep matters whilst a delicious breakfast was served. Everyone seemed curious to know if we had slept well but I was more interested to hear how our matron Gary felt, given he had endured the whole night in a darkened room. Coincidentally he spent the night reading about the Normandy Landings as he watched over us in our dystopian hangar style bedroom.

Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep tells me that prolonged sleep deprivation can be fatal. In our 24hr society individuals are torn between the necessity to work and battling against their circadian rhythms. What risk is this posing for tomorrow’s generations?

‘To sleep perchance to dream’

If only!

-       Sandra Elkins


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Why We Sleep - Matthew Walker

The Sleep School

How to Cope with Sleep Problems - Mind

Sleep Tips - BBC News

A New Theory Linking Sleep and Creativity - The Atlantic

Awake // Miranda Colmans

Sleep: we all need it and most of us probably think we don’t get enough. But what is it like to get a bad night of sleep, day after day, week after week, month after month? Awake, by Miranda Colmans, explores this. Told through a series of characters who find themselves awake in the middle of the night and come together in an online chat room, Colmans highlights the difficulties experienced by people with chronic insomnia.

Around 6-10% of the adult population will meet the clinical criteria for insomnia disorder, which requires at least 3 nights a week of poor sleep, for at least 3 months, causing significant distress or impairment to daytime functioning. Colmans portrays not just the exhaustion that is experienced by successive nights of little sleep, but also the frustration and loneliness that people experience being awake while everyone else is asleep.  Starting off with the at times comical side of the often conflicting advice and strategies offered to get to sleep, like trying to relax for the third time that night. 

Colmans leads us down a path of the increasing frustration and loneliness her character’s experience to the onset of mental health problems. Insomnia is a recognised risk factor for the development of depression and commonly occurs alongside many mental health conditions.  Colmans’ portrayal of a single mum as she tries to cope with a new baby on little or no sleep, eloquently demonstrates how things can quickly unravel. The onset of insomnia is not uncommon during or shortly after pregnancy and can be linked with the development or exacerbation of post-partum depression. This is a very vulnerable time for many new mothers and fathers, especially for those with little or no support. Sleep is often low on the list of priorities but more needs to be done to ensure that we give sleep the time it deserves. Work like Colmans’ bring sleep to centre stage, recognising the importance of sleep in all of our lives. 

- Kate Porcheret


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Awake - Miranda Colmans

Scientific Review of Chronic Insomnia - The Lancet

Why Do We Sleep? - Russell Foster (TED Talk)

Having Trouble With Your Sleep? - Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences



Insomnia is a common problem – the NHS estimates that one in three people in the UK experience it regularly – and on the surface Millican-Slater's stories evoke the banal: one features a couple in a supermarket; another, a couple disturbed by the insistent loud music played by their neighbours after hours.

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

THE MAGNETIC DIARIES / Reaction Theatre Makers

A poetry play based on Madame Bovary, The Magnetic Diaries describes a contemporary battle with severe depression, and the course of brain-altering repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS) therapy that our protagonist, Emma, embarks on.