Eyes Wide Shut – Experiences and Evaluations of Sleep and Sleeplessness

In this new research project – situated at the intersection of psychological anthropology, STS, and the interdisciplinary field of sleep science – I am interested in how knowledge on sleep is produced, applied, and experienced in different settings and by different people. I am particularly interested in how people’s subjective experience of sleep and sleeplessness relates to the “objective” data produced in sleep labs or by sleep apps. The research will focus on insomnia because in this disorder the gaps between subjective perception (for instance of sleep duration) and professional evaluation (for instance in a sleep lab) are well-known, but not yet fully understood. Research will focus on three groups of people: sleep doctors, sleep researchers, and patients suffering from insomnia.

The first phase of the fieldwork focuses on a sleep lab in Halle (Saale) dedicated to diagnosis and treatment. Through participant observation, I study the “interactions” between the technical instruments and the patients, the ways sleep and the sleeping subject are cared for, arranged, measured and evaluated, and the resulting “techno-intimate” atmosphere at the lab. I will also conduct interviews, both with medical professionals specialized in sleep and with patients suffering from insomnia, centring on questions such as: How do people suffering from insomnia experience and narrate their sleeplessness? How does prolonged insomnia change the ways they relate to “their selves” (for instance in terms of self-confidence, self-consciousness, and sense of agency)? And how do doctors encounter and negotiate insomnia experiences of their patients, especially when they contradict their measurements? A second part of the research will focus on sleep researchers to understand how they conceptualize (disordered) sleep, how they integrate patient experiences with biodata, and how they communicate their knowledge to medical professionals and those who participate in their studies. Fieldwork is planned to take place in a neuroscience research institute focusing on insomnia.

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