Sunday, November 14, 2010

Perchance to dream

(This is a not-great trailer of the same production 
I saw, but at a different company and with a different cast. At least it gives a little taste of the magicality and musicality of the piece.)
Yesterday afternoon I supremely enjoyed the first opera I’m attending in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 2010-2011 season, Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Benjamin Britten is one of my favorite 20th century opera composers, and I’d never seen his brilliant translation from Shakespeare’s stage play to musical opera. Those who recall the story from their school days or favorite repertory theater know that it is all about a prolonged dream involving fairies (both royal and Puckish), a band of well-meaning actors (as the troupe says, anticipating Yogi Berra but most definitely in Shakespeare’s words:  “If we offend, it is with our good will.”), and lovers-gone-awry galore. All is happily resolved at the end of their long, intertwined, disorienting dream, but it’s also clear that no one got a restful, restorative night’s sleep.

By happy coincidence, earlier last week my friend and colleague at the University of Chicago's Division of Biological Sciences, Professor Eve Van Cauter, gave a presentation to my alumni club. The topic was her recent research on sleep and biorhythms providing experimental evidence in healthy human subjects of the epidemiologically-observed associations between chronic reductions in sleep duration and quality with the development of obesity and obesity-associated type II diabetes (“diabesity”).  

Here is how I introduced her:
I have known Eve Van Cauter since the late 1980s, when she first brought her extraordinary human subjects experiments to the NIH-grant funded Clinical Research Center at the University of Chicago, where I was administrator at the time.

One of the joys of grant administration is grant renewal, and part of grant renewal is the tribulation of a site visit, which goes on for a day-and-a-half and involves the descent of a group of 10 experts and peers, and a few government officers, to whom we had to present our best projects to convince the funding agency to continue their largesse for another five years.

Naturally, there is a great deal of art (and maybe science) to how the projects are presented. Whoever goes first gets to start the day off with a bang. Whoever goes right after lunch is doomed unless they’re a pretty lively speaker. However, you always reserve your strongest presenter for last, so after a long, exhausting day the reviewers will leave inspired, energized, and deeply impressed by the quality and creativity, importance, and soundness of your center’s science and productivity.  Eve Van Cauter was always designated to go last.

Although her doctorate, earned at the Free University of Brussels, is in biophysics, her contributions are to the disciplines of human physiology and the unraveling of the mysteries of sleep and circadian rhythmicity, the daily biological clock if you will. As summarized on her 37-page curriculum vitae, her interests include, among other things:

The role of sleep and circadian rhythmicity in endocrine regulation, metabolism, cardiovascular function, mood, and cognitive performance;

The interactive effects of sleep loss and reduced sleep quality in aging and the associated impacts on health and cognition;

The control of circadian rhythmicity in health and disease, including how we adapt to time shifts like jet lag.

Which among those is not of direct relevance to all of us? I present to you my friend and colleague, Eve Van Cauter who is going to tell you about heretofore unrecognized relationships between the body and the “brain” phenomenon of sleep.


  1. Interesting. It never occured to me there might be a connection between my Type II and my discombubulated sleeping patterns.... hmmm.
    On a different tack I do love Midsummer. Even took one of my high school Humanities classes to see it at the Barbicon in London with the Royal Shakespearian. Those were the days.....

  2. Interesting, TB, thanks for the comment, hope the insight regarding diabetes and sleep quality issues is helpful to you.

    Your humanities class was seriously lucky!!