Even though we all spend about a third of our lives asleep, there's still plenty left for us to learn about the science of sleep. This month, Horizon looks at the importance of shuteye for our physical and mental health, and how sleep-deprived brains may be both awake and asleep at the same time. Plus, we investigate what exactly drives us to sleep and wake up, the effects of insomnia, and how the way our bodies use sleep to form memories is inspiring scientists to discover ways to improve our brains.
For many people who struggle to get a good night’s rest, being able to switch on and off the brain circuits that control sleep would be a life-changer. The good news is that’s exactly what scientists hope to do, but first they need to get a better understanding of what’s going on.
Genes and adverse childhood experiences could result in a hyperalert brain that is good at being ready for action but gives rise to insomnia in later life, according to Professor Eus Van Someren, a sleep expert at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience. He is investigating the link between insomnia and depression and has discovered a strong genetic correlation among the two conditions.
Reducing the trauma associated with bad memories while someone is asleep sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but it could become a reality in 10 years thanks to a greater understanding of how the brain encodes memories during sleep.
For something that can occupy such a significant chunk of time, sleep still remains a mysterious part of our lives. Although it is known to play a role in mental and physical health, such as metabolism and memory, there is much that is still not well understood.
The world’s oceans are overfished, polluted and – for something that makes up 70% of the Earth’s surface – still little understood. This month, Horizon looks at some of the science that could help us take better care of our oceans, from robots trash collectors out at sea to finding ways to track the plastic that enters our waters. Plus, we look at how climate change is affecting plans for sustainable aquaculture, tech that can help divers reduce the cost of their dives by more than 50%, and the challenges facing research in the Black Sea.
To mark the European year of cultural heritage, Horizon explores how science is helping to uncover more about our past and to preserve our art, landscapes, buildings and ways of life for the future. We discover why prehistoric humans chose to paint rock art where they did, and how farming techniques from hundreds of years ago could help fight climate change today. Plus, we learn how cultural heritage feeds into European identities and what can be done to prevent the destruction of historical sites during wartime.
The world’s largest radio telescope, known as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) and situated over two continents, will be able to detect the first stars and galaxies emerging from the ‘murk’ at the beginning of the universe and much more besides, according to Professor Phil Diamond, Director General of SKA. He spoke to Horizon at the opening of the Shared Sky art exhibition in Brussels, Belgium on 16 April, where indigenous artists from SKA host nations South Africa and Australia use traditional painting and folk art to explore the themes of astronomy, spirituality and a borderless sky.
Electric ferries and digital communication between ships could help in the quest to decarbonise maritime transport, a sector which is often perceived as being the green option but could still do much to lower its environmental footprint.
Astronomers could use giant radio telescope from 2025.
New tech could help shrink shipping emissions.
The EU’s research chief on his new role.