Sleep researcher Christian Benedict wishes everyone a Good Night

2022-11-30

Bringing a PhD thesis and a grant, sleep researcher Christian Benedict left his native Germany for an unwritten future at Uppsala University. Just over a decade later, he is leading his team along the frontline of one of the world's hottest fields of science.

Christian Benedict, sleep researcher and author of Sleep, sleep, sleep
Christian Benedict, sleep researcher and author of Sleep, sleep, sleep

Christian Benedict doesn't even sit down before his phone starts ringing. He apologizes and answers – only to face yet another of all the victims for the near-epidemiological sleep problems that are currently spreading around the world. "I'm sorry, but as much as I want to help you, I have to refer you to healthcare. It would be wrong to speculate over the phone what causes your insomnia". After another minute of fruitless persuasion, the sleep deprived gives up. Christian hangs up with a sigh. "There are so many people reaching out to me. Not least worried parents whose teens does not get enough sleep, but I simply can't give them what they need".

In 2009, Christian Benedict arrives in Sweden and Uppsala University, only carrying a PhD thesis and a German grant to investigate the relationship between sleep and metabolism. The epicenter of Swedish sleep research might be in Stockholm, but in Uppsala a Professor of Functional pharmacology has promised to be of assistance. Rumor has it that some instruments might be laying around, hopefully not older than forty years. But sometimes that's all it takes. Just over a decade later, the field has changed and Christian has earned his place among the profiles of Swedish research.

“Diet and exercise have long been in focus of research and debate on lifestyle factors, but over time sleep has gained an increasingly prominent position and my group's results are met with great respect. Today, journalists turn to Uppsala for answers and we often receive requests for interviews, something I see as a direct result of our hard work. At the same time, it is important to convey the full concept of a sustainable lifestyle, that a good night's sleep is important, but does not take you all the way.”

After a year at Uppsala University, Christian Benedict receives a postdoc grant from the Swedish Research Council, a significant injection into a budding career, but the real boost is his rapidly growing network. First within the Department, soon across the entire Disciplinary Domain of Medicine and Pharmacy.

“I love Uppsala and its generous research environments. My former group leader never hesitated to introduce me to his contacts and everyone I meet show an openness to cooperation. I was provided the tools I needed, and along with my results came the first major grants and the opportunity to establish my own team. Today, we are a well-knit unit with several notable publications behind us.”

Christian Benedict, the Faculty of Pharmacy
Christian Benedict, the Faculty of Pharmacy

Among the group's numerous studies that receive global recognition, there is the discovery that already one sleep deprived night might affect the brain negatively, that shift work can be linked to reduced cognitive abilities that can take several years to restore, not to mention that lack of sleep can change our intestinal flora. Important findings that contribute to sleep research being acknowledged as interdisciplinary relevant for a wide range of medical sciences.

“Bearing in mind that international survey studies show that every other adult does not feel recovered after normal sleep on weekdays, this is of course alarming. On the other hand, we are aware that many people experience such stress from this knowledge that they sleep even worse. Thus, we must focus our science outreach on the positive aspects of sleep,” reasons Christian Benedict.

However, stating our need for sleep is not without friction. Many people claim that they are able to perform in professional life despite few hours in bed. In addition, the position of science was hardly promoted by the world’s most powerful man repeating for four years that sleep is for the lazy.

“Of course, our need for sleep is individual, but a study we conducted among 20,000 teenagers in Uppsala County showed that poor school performances are strongly associated with disturbed or reduced night sleep. And Donald Trump probably wouldn't have behaved quite so impulsively if he would have had a good night sleep.”

A simple way to determine your personal need is to calculate your average number of hours of sleep over three consecutive nights during a vacation. If you normally sleep less than that, you put yourself in what researchers refer to as "sleep debt", something that many try to reimburse by sleeping longer when the weekend comes.

“Sleep debts can in fact be compensated in the short term, but is not something I recommend over time. It disrupts our dream sleep and consequently the brain's ability to process and sort impressions. In addition, our metabolism is negatively affected, which can cause obesity, type 2 diabetes and other common lifestyle diseases. Stable sleep habits, on the other hand, help us to comprehend new knowledge and above all to feel better, which is what we must communicate if we are to come to terms with a large part of the population suffering from sleep difficulties,” says Christian Benedict.

With high impact research and the skills to convey it publicly, Christian Benedict has managed to establish a leading scientific environment in Uppsala, and the media spotlight continue to shine on the laboratory. In 2023 we’ll see the premiere of a (still secret) TV series, and a sequel to 2018 year's bestseller Sleep, sleep, sleep is all set to hit the bookstores. But despite achieving major success in popular science, research and education remain the core of the group's operations.

“We recently had strong international impact with a study showing that weighted blankets can increase the levels of melatonin in young adults by 30 percent and thus affect sleep positively. We are currently preparing for our third PhD thesis defense, and our team’s transfer to Uppsala University's Department of Pharmaceutical Bioscience has turned out great. We have been well received with several exciting projects underway, and already after a few months I am convinced that we are in the right environment to take our operations to the next level!”

FACTS CHRISTIAN BENEDICT

  • Profession Senior lecturer at Uppsala University's Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences
  • Age 46 years
  • Family Wife, five children – two of whom live in Germany, dog, cats and a horse.
  • On weekdays, my alarm rings At seven, by which I have normally slept just under seven hours.
  • Before I go to sleep in the evening I like to hang out with my family or play football in Torpedo Kamrat BK.
  • The most enjoyable part of my profession Is working together with so many enthusiastic young researchers.

LEARN MORE

MORE RESEARCH PROFILES

CONTACT

Christian BenedictChristian Benedict, Senior Lecturer
Department of Pharmaceutical Biosciences
Christian.Benedict@farmbio.uu.se

Text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Stefan Tell, Mikael Wallerstedt

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Last modified: 2024-04-04