PhD Profile: The case for sleep

A few sleepless nights may well have been all to the good for Sarah-Jane Paine. She successfully completed her doctorate in 2006 on key factors affecting sleep and how they might be affected by ethnicity and socio-economic factors – and in the process became one of 500 new Mäori PhDs last year.

In a paper published in the international Journal of Biological Rhythms, Sarah-Jane, who isfrom Tühoe iwi, saw a prevalence of both “morning people” and ”night owls” in New Zealand.

“One thing I wanted to determine was whether differences in our preferred timing for sleep was controlled by our circadian biological clock or by social patterns like work patterns or family commitments,” she says.

Sleep, or more accurately sleep deprivation, is increasingly believed to be related to health problems such as obesity and diabetes. Sarah-Jane did not find any difference in sleeping patterns between Mäori and non-Mäori, but with her colleagues has found sleep disorders are more prevalent amongst Mäori than non-Mäori.

After studying for five years at the University of Otago she embarked on her research into “morningness” and “eveningness” at the Sleep-Wake Research Centre at the Massey Research School of Public Health.

In completing her PhD she participated in Ngä Pae o te Märamatanga’s MAI ki Pöneke support programme. “It was incredibly valuable to have other Mäori PhDs to talk with. The support through writing workshops, senior researchers and retreats made a real difference to being able to complete this work successfully.

“I think that Mäori communities put a very high value on knowledge and on listening and learning. I think we can really engage with science through the way we do things already, so it is really exciting to see more and more people managing to remove the disjunct between the words Mäori and science.”