Fall 2019 - PSYC 106 D900

Psychological Issues in Contemporary Society (3)

The Science of Sleep

Class Number: 7828

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    Location: TBA

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 12, 2019
    8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
    Location: TBA



Relates contemporary knowledge from psychology to current social problems. Provides relevant information from studies pertaining to problems such as attitude development, prejudice, race relations, addiction, behavior technology, and family pathology. Course can be repeated for credit. See Psychology department website for course description. Students may not take this course for further credit if similar topics are covered. Breadth-Social Sciences.


Sleep is a behaviour that occupies a third of our lives and is essential for our health and well-being, but we do not yet understand why. Some experts believe that our 24-h society has produced a chronically sleep deprived population, and that this underlies a host of behavioural and medical problems, while others argue that sleep is dispensable in some animals and can be reduced without harm in people. How much sleep do we really need, and what happens if we get too little or too much (if there is such a thing)? To answer these questions, we need to know what biological and psychological functions sleep serves. To do this, we will learn about how sleep is defined and measured, how it is expressed in other animals (some of which live in the water), how it changes across the lifespan, how it is regulated by brain clocks and ‘somnostats’, how modern life interferes with sleep, and how this affects our behavior, brain and body. Sleep disorders and treatments (cognitive behavioral and pharmacological) will also be discussed. Through this course, students will be introduced to concepts and methods in psychology, biology and the health sciences, and will learn how best to manage their own sleep.  

A contemporary view of sleep is that it is ‘of the brain and for the brain’. Students will not be assumed to have taken university biology, but must be willing to learn about of the basics of brain structure and function. This material will therefore serve as an introduction to our gateway course on brain and behavior (PSYC 280). 


Lecture Topics:
1.      Sleep science foundations
o   A brief history of sleep
o   Definition and measurement: behaviour,  brain and physiology in sleep.
o   Sleep regulation: somnostats, circadian clocks and ultradian rhythms
o   Do all animals sleep?

2.      Why do we sleep?
o   Methodological approaches for studying the function of sleep
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is for energy conservation and safety
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is for brain development
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is for recovery from ‘wear/tear’ of waking
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is a component of the immune system
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is for synaptic homeostasis.
o   Hypothesis: Sleep is for brain plasticity (learning and memory)

3.      What could go wrong?
o   Primary sleep disorders: insomnia, apnea, narcolepsy
o   Parasomnias:  sleep walking, restless legs, nightmares
o   Pregnancy and menopause
o   Aging and dementia: does disrupted sleep with age contribute to symptoms of dementia?
o   Psychopathology:  mood disorders, psychosis.

4.      Controlling sleep:
o   Drugs for inducing ‘sleep’.
o   Drugs that keep us awake.

5.      Sleep and the 24h society:
o   Is there an optimal amount of sleep for a healthy lifespan?
o   Is there a ‘natural’ sleep pattern?
o   Sleep across cultures, sleep before electric lighting; sleep in preindustrial societies.

6.      Policy implications: 
o   School start times
o   youth sports
o   daylight savings time
o   medical practises
o   industrial shiftwork


  • Short quizzes in class: 20%
  • Midterm exam: 30%
  • Term paper and sleep diary: 20%
  • Final exam: 30%



1.      Steven Lockley and Russell Foster, Sleep: a very short introduction. Oxford Press, 2012.
-9 chapters, 140 pages; authoritative, informative, portable
– a pocket book that actually fits in your pocket.

2.      Selected articles will be available as PDFs on Canvas. 
ISBN: 13: 9780199587858

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html