News & Blog

New Ambassador for Charity Talks Sleep

Nov 2, 2022

TV scientist, author and new ambassador for the Sleep Charity, Mark Thompson, tells us about how his relationship with sleep has changed following his crazy marathon lecture – don’t try it at home!

As an astronomer, I have, for most of my life, had a poor relationship with sleep. I’ve been fascinated by the night sky since I was about 10 years old. If there was an eclipse or meteor shower or something happening in the sky I would happily stay up late, often pulling in an all nighter to see the wonders the Universe had to share. I would no put any great effort in to trying to catch up on my sleep but just struggled through the days that followed until the next event!

It all started to change for me in 2015 when I gave a 24 hour lecture at the Royal Institution in London to raise money for Marie Curie. At the time I wondered what the Guinness World Record was for the Longest Marathon Lecture. I learned it was over five days and decided not for me!

I gave the lecture, felt tired and with a sore throat but thought no more about the Guinness World Record. That was until 2018 when I was talking to Norwich Science Festival organisers who convinced me to give the record a go. I started preparing by getting in touch with sleep experts to understand what I was about to expect. That was my light bulb moment and ever since I have been obsessed with the importance of sleep and my relationship with it has changed significantly.

During the attempt, I teamed up with scientists from three different universities (Oxford, Cambridge Uppsala in Sweden) to help learn more about the impact of extreme sleep deprivation. The experience itself was life changing. I experienced memory loss, hallucinations and impacts on my own health…just by staying awake for over 5 days!’ Now I want to help spread the word about the importance of sleep.

The 5 key messages I am trying to spread are:

  1. Human’s are the only creatures that try to delay sleep. Try and change your relationship with sleep and give it priority in your life.
  2. Regular bed time and wake times are key and make sure to try and get the right amount of sleep for you. If you regularly feel sleepy during the day, try to get more at night or improve the quality of sleep at night. There are many tips on the Sleep Charity site to help with this.
  3. If you are unable to sleep, don’t worry about it. Just relax in bed as long as feels ok, but if you need to get up, do something relaxing and try again later. The great thing about your brain, if you need sleep, then no matter how determined you are to stay awake, your brain will make you sleep!
  4. Try and make your bedroom conducive to a good night sleep, keep it dark, cool and keep out the tech.
  5. If your bed partner keeps you awake, then give each other a sleep holiday and choose separate rooms for one nigh a week. There is no harm in it. In fact, if you love your partner but you are keeping them awake, there is no greater gift you can give them than a good night sleep.