Cultures of Medicine and Sleeplessness

A free-flowing discussion at Weisman addresses the modern problems with sleep

By: Joe Kelly


The first thing artist Peng Wu and sleep researcher Dr. Michael Howell had their participants do was go to the nearest window and observe the sunset. Even though we couldn’t directly see the sunset, Wu said this was an opportunity to properly say goodbye to the day. This was the start of an exploration into modern society’s interactions with sleep in the Weisman Art Museum’s event: Cultures of Medicine and Sleeplessness. 



Wu explained how we often forget about the sunset because of our preoccupation with studying, work, obligations, and anything else that keeps us busy. The first lines of a circular piece of paper given to participants when they walked in read: “Staring at morning sunlight. Imagine the sun is resetting your circadian rhythm.” I soon found myself under a peaceful trance while watching the daylight fade. 


Next, our group of around 30 members were led to the “night room,” which consisted of pillows, windows, and lamps that gradually brightened and dimmed at timed intervals. The event’s blend of scientific insight and artistic interpretation created an open discussion on what sleep is, what it can be, and its importance. Wu told us his story about how after five years of a lack of good sleep due to his work schedule, he decided to take on a creative project to help others practice sleep. Howell and the other researchers complemented Wu’s view on sleep by summarizing research findings like how our perceptions of how much we sleep can affect our energy levels more than the actual amount of sleep we had. 


If you are struggling with sleep, make sure to always have a time when you prepare for bed. Meditation and a quiet, dimly-lit room can help you adjust to the night time. Even if you can’t sleep, meditating and even plain resting can do wonders if you don’t overthink it.

Wake Mag