Research shows importance of sleep

Silke Morrison will graduate from the University of Otago today with a PhD in medicine. PHOTO:...
Silke Morrison will graduate from the University of Otago today with a PhD in medicine. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
Urging children to get more sleep may be a ‘‘stealth’’ way of reducing the risk of obesity in young people.

It is a theory Silke Morrison has been researching for the past three years, and one that will have her graduate with a PhD in medicine today.

Her research explored the mechanisms that may be responsible for the impact sleep loss has on weight in children who do not sleep enough, and involved a study of 105 healthy Dunedin children.

‘‘We found that children who don’t get enough sleep consume significantly more energy from quick and easy-to-grab foods.

‘‘The stigma associated with diets means they can be so hard to change and influence, so a public health approach to promote the importance of sleep that can then have a positive flow-on effect for a wide range of outcomes such as diet, may be a stealth way forward, reducing the risk of obesity in children.’’

Inspiration for undertaking a doctorate was seeded while she was living at Abbey College with her husband and college warden Luke Morrison, and their two sons Otto and Timo.

‘‘Immersed in the daily life of Abbey College and surrounded by the range of cultures and research topics of the postgraduate student community was amazing.

‘‘I wanted to be part of what they were doing.’’

She has previously been a practice nurse, a private practice dietitian, an assistant research fellow in the university’s human nutrition department, and a professional practice fellow for the human nutrition dietetics master’s programme.

While she was mulling over what subject to complete a doctorate on, serendipitously, a notice was posted on a university advertising board, calling for a PhD student to research sleep and obesity.

‘‘It was one of those life moments where I saw, with clarity, my path for the next three years.

‘‘Not only was it the opportunity to work with a researcher I really looked up to, but it also meant I could complete the thesis just before I turned the significant milestone of 50.’’

She said it felt ‘‘pretty special’’ to be graduating with a doctorate, especially because she is the first in her family who has had the opportunity to attend university.

Mrs Morrison is now applying for funding for additional research on the topic, and is also working inthe department of medicine on a follow-up study to the prevention of obesity in infants. 

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