A TED Talk for Biological Rhythms and Sleep

Sometimes the best resources are the ones made not for A Psychology Level students but simply for anyone with an open mind. The audience at a typical TED talk (TED is an organisation committed to sharing, in their words, “ideas worth spreading”) is made up of people with a range of professional and personal interests, bound by a common drive to learn. These talks can make perfect learning resources for A Level Psychology students because, without the constraints of exam specifications, they allow a story to be shared that is both authentic and engaging.

TED Talks and AQA specification A

There are many talks on the website which directly relate to AQA Spec A. Elizabeth Loftus recently (September 2013) gave a talk called “The fiction of memory” related to her extensive work on Eye Witness Testimony (Memory: Unit 1). Eleanor Longden’s moving speech called “The voices in my head” is a talk that all AS and A2 students should see/hear as it highlights the some of the arguments against taking a psychiatric approach to the classification and treatment of disorders, such as Schizophrenia, better than any textbook (Unit 4: Psychopathology).

The talk that caught my eye (or ear more precisely), however, relates to a topic where there are considerably less accessible resources for A Level students. In August 2013 Russell Foster (a circadian neuroscientist) gave a talk entitled “Why do we sleep?” which compliments and extends the A2 topic Biological Rhythms and Sleep (Unit 3).

Russell Foster on sleep: “Sleep is God, go worship”

One of the best things about this talk is that the speaker models the very essence of being synoptic. He doesn’t talk about a single topic area but weaves a range of concepts and ideas together to talk coherently about why we sleep. The talk covers a whole host of concepts including a brief history of sleep theories, endogenous pacemakers, theoretical approaches, sleep deprivation and disruption of rhythms; Foster also warns of the dangers of not getting enough quality sleep. The talk is worth listening to if only to hear the analogy he uses where he likens the importance of sleep to upgrading your class on a flight.

Using TED Talks in (and outside) the classroom

I think it is worth asking students to listen to or watch something at least twice with a different focus each time to ensure they are getting as much as they can out of it. Students could be asked to watch the talk in their own time outside of class focusing on questions that assess the impact the talk had on them. For example, they could be asked to identify something that surprised them, something they knew already, something they didn’t already know and/or whether they would recommend someone else to watch this talk and why. In class students could listen (perhaps without the visuals for greater focus) to the talk again. This time questions or statements could be provided to discuss which link the content of the talk to the precise specification content and skills, pausing at points in the talk to explore the ideas in more detail. I personally think this particular video talk would be best placed two thirds of the way through the topic to allow rhythms and sleep to be consolidated and extended and introduce sleep disorders and the applications of knowledge about sleep.

This post is my first one for this blog. If you like it please visit my blog at For more posts about TED Talks and AQA spec A follow these links:

Zimbardo talks to TED

“A tale of mental illness from the inside”. (Elyn Saks)

A TED X talk: “The Truth Behind Those Voices in Your Head”

4 Responses to “A TED Talk for Biological Rhythms and Sleep”

  1. Jamie Davies November 1, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    Some excellent videos there. Thank you.

  2. bobevans1 December 12, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

    Great. It should be complicated research.

  3. bobevans1 December 12, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    In addition to my previous comment, I think this issue could be even researched deeper. For example with the help of

  4. Zoja April 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm #

    I listen to TedTalks all the time to help with psychology and I really liked “Jules Evans – How philosophy can save your life” talk, he discusses the origins of Cognitive behavioural therapy.

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