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Why Do We Need Sleep?

Why Do We Need Sleep?

It’s obvious why we need sleep. Or is it?

A Waikato University study made possible by $660,000 from the Marsden Fund is seeking to answer a series of fundamental questions related to the purpose of sleep and how it happens.

The study is one of seven Waikato University projects given a Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund research grant in 2003, making it the university’s most successful year ever in terms of attracting Marsden funding.

A total of seven Waikato research projects will receive just over $1.95 million, the best performance since 1996 when eight projects attracted $1.6 million worth of funding.

The biggest award overall is to Moira Steyn-Ross in Physics who will receive $660,000 over three years for sleep-related research.

“Although we spend about a third of our lives sleeping, we cannot answer such questions as why we need sleep, how we fall asleep and what happens in the brain when we cycle from quiet slow-wave sleep to rapid-eye-movement sleep,” Dr Steyn-Ross says.

“We may be able to answer some of these questions by comparing natural sleep with a mathematical model that has been developed to describe the ‘enforced’ sleep brought on by anaesthetic drugs.”

She says the end result may be better understanding of the factors that contribute to sleep quality.

Meanwhile, Alan Hogg from the Carbon Dating Unit has been awarded $375,000 for carbon dating research involving kauri buried in Northland bogs.

Terry Crowley from Linguistics has been awarded $333,000 to help document four languages of Malakula in Vanuatu. His colleague Ray Harlow is principal investigator in a Canterbury University-led project which will study the development of the pronunciation of Maori over the last 120 or so years, comparing old Radio New Zealand tapes of Maori speakers with the speech of kaumatua and younger people today.

Catharine Coleborne yCathy Colbornefrom History will use her $100,000 grant over two years to study family strategies for dealing with the problem of “madness” in the past in Australia and New Zealand. The research aims to find out how it was that between 1860 and 1914 the asylum was seen as a solution to household issues. (more follows)

Juliet Roper from the Waikato Management School is to receive $100,000 to test whether business support for sustainable development is, in some cases, more rhetorical than material.

Conrad Pilditch from Biological Sciences has been awarded $100,000 to study how animals and plants in inter-tidal areas affect the movement of mud and sand in those areas. His work is being carried out in collaboration with Mal Green from NIWA.

Bernhard Pfahringer from Computer Science is to receive $100,000 for research on extracting knowledge from data. Data mining attempts to identify patterns in data in order to use them for prediction. This project aims to improve prediction by dealing with sets of test examples simultaneously, adapting patterns to the idiosyncrasies of specific example sets.

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