Instant expert

May 27, 2005

Conference: The Associated Professional Sleep Societies' annual meeting, June 18-23, Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colorado, US. Fees $425 for non-members, reduced rates for members of affiliated professional organisations, students $90, postgraduates and researchers $150.

What's it about?: This is an annual get-together for sleep scientists, presented by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, kicking off with a keynote address "Sleepless or Breathless: The Human Conundrum". Even non-specialists would agree that the difference between sleeping and not breathing is an important distinction, especially for the medical profession.

Sleeping giants: Mind you, if you want to impress the delegates, you could respond to the sleepless or breathless question by casually throwing in the observation that in Greek mythology sleep (hypnos) and death (thanatos) were knowns as "Twins of the Night".

Pillow talk: The lectures cover sleep-related topics from a range of scientific and medical perspectives. This includes links between sleep and psychiatric disorders and lack of sleep and emotional changes. There are presentations on blockages in air passages in sleep, "optimising human functioning at night" and "abnormal motor behaviours in sleep".

I've been up all night and I'm knackered: You might get some help from the talk on Shifting Human Circadian Rhythms with Light, Dark and Melatonin: Solutions for Jet Lag and Shift Work. Can you imagine how bad-tempered those experiments must have been? How are you feeling? Just shut up and give me a coffee.

Sleeping sickness: Call yourself tired? The longest sleep-deprivation volunteer, a teenage student, took part in a 264-hour experiment, with consequences that ranged from slurred speech and memory loss to confusion about his identity. Anything to save money on drinking.

Rapid eye movement: It's going to be rapid everything, because the conference schedule is hyperactively loaded with events and speakers. There's advice on preplanning a conference visit, because there are five or six presentations running simultaneously. The timetable looks fuller than a three-year degree course.

Resist the temptation: If you're a speaker, don't begin with a gag about not wanting to put the listeners to sleep. Someone will, but it doesn't have to be you. Also, avoid using the Anxious Speakers' Book of Obvious Quotes, which will see someone launching into "Sleep, perchance to dream". Again, let someone else go down in flames. Or, as they say in the trade, let sleeping dons lie.

Dream ticket: The conference is filled with tantalising presentations. There's a chance to find out more about the "diagnosis and management of restless legs syndrome" or "night eating syndrome", where people wake up and start raiding the fridge.

The big sleep: There's no escaping the irony that a conference considering sleep problems has the most effective cure under its own roof. Admit it, you've all been there. You're tired, you've travelled a long way, the conference hall is warm, the lighting is subdued, there's the comforting babble of voices, a soft chair. Before you know it, you're snoring like a warthog.

Lights out: Denver, at the foot of the Rockies, rather modestly announces itself as the city with the tenth biggest downtown area in the US. It also has its own hip and happening quarter, which, echoing New York's SoHo, is called LoDo. More promisingly, the city claims to brew more beer than any other city in the country.

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