Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Nodding off? Top tips to a better night’s sleep

Professor Richard Wiseman. Photo credit Brian Fischbacher
New research described in Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book Night School suggests that 59% of adults in Britain – over 28 million people – are now sleep deprived, getting only seven hours or less sleep each night.

This amount is below the recommended guidelines, and is associated with a range of problems, including an increased risk of weight gain, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer. Professor Wiseman’s research has revealed that one of the main causes of sleep deprivation is the use of a computer, smart phone or tablet in the two hours before going to bed.

A 2013 survey* revealed that 78% of respondents used such devices during this period before bed. This percentage increased among 18-24 years old with a remarkable 91% using electronic devices in the two hours before bedtime. It is believed that the blue light emitted from these devices suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. In addition to this, the research also found that the vast majority of people’s dreams are far from sweet, with only 10% of respondents describing their dreams as pleasant.

In response to his findings, Professor Wiseman has compiled ten science-based tips to a better night’s sleep:

1) Banish the blues: Avoid using computers, smartphones or tablets in the two hours before you head to bed. The blue light stimulates your brain and prevents you feel sleepy.

2) The list: Make a list of all of the things that you have to do the next day or that are playing on your mind. This helps prevent you lying in bed thinking about these issues.

3) Tire your brain: If you are struggling to sleep, make your brain tired by thinking of an animal for each letter of the alphabet (‘A’ is for ‘Ant’, ‘B’ is for ‘Bear’).

4) Move your bed: You have evolved to feel safe when you can spot danger early and have time to run away, and so will feel most relaxed when your bed faces the door and is furthest from it.

5) Reach for a banana: Eat a banana before you head to bed. They're rich in carbohydrates, and these help relax your body and brain.

6) Reverse psychology: Actively trying to stay awake actually makes you feel tired, so try keeping your eyes open and focus on not falling asleep.

7) Wear socks:If you have bad circulation, your feet will get cold and cause sleeplessness. To avoid the problem, wear a pair of warm socks to bed.

Professor Wiseman's Book: Night School
8) Avoid the lure of the nightcap: Although a small amount of alcohol puts you to sleep quicker, it also gives you a more disturbed night and disrupts dreaming.

9) The power of association: Ensure that the same piece of soporific music is quietly playing each time you fall asleep. Over time you'll come to associate the music with sleep, and so listening to it will help you to nod off.

10) Do a jigsaw: If you lie awake for more than twenty minutes, get up and do something non-stimulating for a few minutes, such as working on a jigsaw.

More information about Professor Wiseman’s research can be found in his book, Night School

* All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,149 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th - 20th February 2014.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Friday, 25 April 2014

Calling all women working in STEMM!


Women in Science Network launch event


Are you a woman working in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths or Medicine (STEMM)?

Perhaps you are looking for some support in your career development, to join discussions, to meet and network with other like-minded women in STEMM areas, or looking for suitable mentoring?   If so, the new Women in Science Network could be for you.  This new network will help all women in their STEMM career development.

Launching on Tuesday 20 May, the inaugural conference will showcase a range of work through case study and presentation from women researchers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) at the University of Hertfordshire.  And TV presenter and University of Hertfordshire alumna Kate Bellingham will provide a keynote address.

Presenters include Professor Fiona Brooks, Professor Soraya Dhillon MBE, Dr Louise Mackenzie, Professor Janet Drew, Dr Ute Gerhard, Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi and Dr Wendy Wills.

The conference will be held in the Lindop Building, University of Hertfordshire College Lane campus, Hatfield, AL10 9AB.  Starting at 10am and finishing at 3pm, lunch and refreshments will be served during the day.

Join us for this inaugural meeting of the Women in Science Network – we’d love to see you.

To book your free place, please complete the booking form www.go.herts.ac.uk/events-booking or contact us directly on events@herts.ac.uk or 01707 284121

Sweet Dreams Experiment

Is it possible for people to create their perfect dream and wake up feeling especially happy and refreshed?

Professor Richard Wiseman.
Photo credit Brian Fischbacher
Well it is according to psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman’s latest book Night School!

The Dream:ON app developed with www.yuza.com
In 2010, Professor Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, teamed-up with app developers YUZA to create ‘Dream:ON’ – an iPhone app that monitors a person during sleep and plays a carefully crafted ‘soundscape’ when they dream. Over 500,000 people downloaded the app and took part in the mass participation experiment.

The study sought to determine whether or not a person’s dream could be influenced by listening to carefully designed soundscapes whilst they slept. Each soundscape was designed to evoke a pleasant scenario, such as a walk in the woods, or lying on a beach. Participants used the app to choose a soundscape to listen to whilst asleep, and afterwards the app would sound a gentle alarm to prompt the person to submit a description of their dream.

Results showed that if someone chose the nature soundscape then they were more likely to have a dream about greenery and flowers. In contrast, if they selected the beach soundscape then they were more like to dream about the sun beating down on their skin. The study also indicated that certain soundscapes produced far more pleasant dreams. In addition, the researchers discovered that the results also showed that participants’ dreams became especially bizarre around the time of the full moon.
Professor Wiseman's Book: Night School

A sweet dream is thought to help people wake-up in a good mood, and as a result boost their productivity during the day. Professor Wiseman’s research may also form the basis of a new type of therapy to help those suffering from certain psychological problems, such as depression.

The findings are described in Professor Wiseman’s book on sleep and dreaming, Night

School.  The Dream:ON app and all of the soundscapes are currently available free of charge.

What is your own experience of dreams?  Do you think you can create your perfect dream and wake up happy and refreshed?

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Designing Domesticity: Visual Techniques in Domestic Advice Books inBritain and the USA since 1945

Guest blog by Dr Grace Lees-Maffei, Reader in Design History, School of Creative Arts

As one of the successful applicants for the Arts & Humanities Research Council's (AHRC’s) Image Gallery, my online gallery for the AHRC website is composed of images from domestic advice books published after World War II.

Dr Grace Lees-Maffei
The AHRC’s Image Gallery was launched last summer to showcase the work and talents of the arts and humanities research community and to celebrate the role of the image in the arts and humanities, for which we source, select, caption and present digital images on the AHRC website.

Domestic advice books are one of several channels through which we receive guidance about what we do in our homes, along with magazines, advertising, marketing, and television. This advice quickly dates, so a continual stream of new advice books is produced.


Front cover of the
Creda Housecraft manual
Old advice books do not provide the historian with evidence of actual practice but they do offer insights into shared ideals of domesticity. Written largely by women, for women, these books are a valuable source in the feminist project of examining women’s writing and their little-seen experiences as home-makers.

Dr Lees-Maffei's new book: 
Design at Home: Domestic Advice 
Books in Britain and the USA since 1945
The page spreads and book covers showcased in the gallery illuminate the visual strategies employed by advisors in persuading their readers to adopt up-to-date home-making practices.

Techniques include direct personal appeals, such as advice presented in the form of a signed letter; recycling and adaptation of images; images subverting text; before and after comparisons and novelties such as text and images which emulate stitch, in reference to home crafts. The housewife is shown happily engaged in domestic work, which teenage readers are depicted as design professionals.

This gallery draws on an interdisciplinary research project supported by an AHRC

Research Leave award which resulted in my recent book ‘Design at Home: Domestic Advice Books in Britain and the USA since 1945'.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Calling all sports professionals…

male_track_runner Business and SportYour love for sport drives you, but having extra options for your career is never a bad move. We at the University of Hertfordshire have been working in consultation with the English Institute of Sport and former international sports professionals to bring you this new qualification exclusively for high performance athletes and sporting professionals: BSc Business and Sport Management (online).

Starting in September 2014 this new, 100% online programme builds on your existing sporting knowledge and develops your business skills. Find out what you study on this course.

Ideal for:

  • Athletes
  • Coaches
  • Development professionals
  • Managers
  • Support staff

A BSc (Hons) Business and Sports Management degree in your back pocket you’ll widen your options – like developing a second career or continuing your studies.

How is this course suitable for sports professionals?

Not having to attend classes every Tuesday at 4pm.

You’re not always near campus every Tuesday at 4pm for that business lecture. We understand your sporting career comes first. After all, it’s your dedication to sport that got you where you are today. Being 100% online, you access your learning materials when it suits your schedule.  Unless you want to come in and use the library or pop in for a cuppa, there’s no need to come on campus: our courses are designed to be learnt solely online.

Complete your degree sooner

Credit is available for professional sporting experience and existing education meaning you could fast track and complete the degree as quickly as two and a half years.

Joining the right team

This course is only for sports professionals, so you’ll be studying alongside like-minded people driven, like you, to succeed in the sporting arena. Your course will be linked to your professional career, plus you learn practical business skills.

On your side

Don’t worry if it’s been a while since you’ve studied. Your first module teaches you all the skills you’ll need to succeed in higher education. From critical thinking and writing academically, to using reference materials and submitting your work – and you’ll have full tutor support every step of the way.

Excellence in the field

Like with all our online courses, they follow the rigorous academic quality standards of the University. The variety of modules you can study, and the support and expertise of your tutors – all combine to provide the perfect environment to learn, strive for the best results and reach your goals.

Try a module first

If you're not sure if you would like to commit to a whole degree, you can sign up to study just one module first. Giving you a taste of distance learning and fitting study around your professional schedule.

The final score

If you’re a high performance athlete or sports professional looking to add another string to your bow, with a degree that’s not only challenging and exciting, but also practical, then the online BSc(Hons) Business and Sports Management could be the perfect compliment to your sporting career.

To find out more about this course, including entry requirements, fees and how to apply visit: go.herts.ac.uk/ontopform

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Why do so many parents normalise overweight in their teenaged children?

Guest Blog: Dr Wendy Wills, Centre for Research in Primary and Community Care

England’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, has asked why so many people do not view their weight as problematic, despite the high rates of overweight and obesity in this country.

She says children are being put at risk through this so-called normalisation process. Together with my co-author Professor Julia Lawton(University of Edinburgh), I recently published findings that suggest some of the reasons why weight is quite often the elephant in the room where parents and their teenaged children are concerned.

Our study (Attitudes to weight and weight management in the early teenage years: a qualitative study of parental perceptions and views) showed that many parents, particularly mothers, have their own stories to tell about their weight and how they have managed their weight throughout their lives.  Weight management, for many parents, was viewed as an irritating and unsuccessful necessity of everyday life.

Image courtesy of donkey rock
via Freeimages.com
These findings provide useful context for understanding parents’ views about their children’s weight and their attitudes towards managing it.  Some parents found it difficult to consider their child as overweight or ‘too big’, and therefore deemed their weight as being ‘acceptable’.

Others voiced concerns and some wanted to take action but these concerns were blurred by the physiological changes related to their teenagers’ puberty – how much weight gain is normal during this period of the life course?

Many parents discussed their teenage weight management strategies with us - these were often complex and multi-pronged and kept the ‘teenage’ context in mind in terms of physiological, emotional and social changes associated with this stage of life.

Parents might change the food and drinks they bought, for example, to keep higher fat/sugar foods and drinks under control at home - but some felt that teenagers were their own ‘worst enemies’ as they could buy their own food and drink with friends and were not limited to that provided by parents.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some parents gave their children direct advice about weight management but were wary about this approach, given their own negative experiences of controlling weight.  Avoiding causing their teenager to develop an eating disorder was also a priority as parents felt young people can become too focused on their body shape, which was viewed as detrimental to wellbeing during the teenage years.

Being responsible for teenaged children and their weight is not easy.

We found in our research that socio-economic status was not linked with parents’ views - normalisation of bodies happened across the social spectrum.  One of the reasons for this could be that we all use our own terms of reference to decide what’s normal, rather than terms set by experts and health professionals.  If our family, friends and neighbours look similar to us then we consider ourselves to ‘fit in’ with our social group - and this might affect those with a higher, as well as lower socio-economic status.  In addition, parents want to be considered as good parents - parents might have to redefine themselves as a ‘bad’ or failing parent if they accept their child is unacceptably large or voice concerns about this.  It’s much better to view a child’s body size as normal as it indicates parenting success -  at maintaining their weight in a seen-to-be healthy range.

We don’t have all the answers in terms of addressing the obesity problem in teenagers but our findings show that the context in which people look after older children is incredibly complex and fraught with anxieties. Trying to take account of these anxieties and concerns, and helping parents to provide a healthy home, rather than focusing on children’s weight, might go some way to understanding why overweight has started to become normalised in the UK.

The study discussed here involved individual in-depth interviews with 72 young people and their parents. Half of the young people aged 13-15 years were overweight or obese. Half of those interviewed were of low socio-economic status.


Wills, W. J. and Lawton, J. (2014) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/hex.12182/

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

UH Heritage Hub video launched at London Coffee festival

A video made by the UH Heritage Hub, in collaboration with Mulmar Foodservice Solutions, to celebrate the company's 25 year heritage, was launched at the London Coffee Festival last week.  Please click here to watch it

The University’s relationship with Mulmar  was developed by Professor Jonathan Morris from the University of Hertfordshire’s School of Humanities who interviewed the business’ founders for his ESRC-funded research project The Cappuccino Conquests, which traced the global history of Italian-style coffee.  The history of Mulmar, a Hatfield-based company specialising in the provision and servicing of coffee equipment, is in many ways emblematic of the UK coffee revolution.  Over the years they have worked with Costa, Starbucks, CafĂ© Nero, ASK and Pret – as well as a host of independents.

Agostino Luggeri, MD of Mulmar, 
at the London Coffee Festival - wearing the 
new Mulmar logo designed by Olawale Osunla, 
a 2nd year student on the Graphic Design Pathway
The video project itself came about after Agostino Luggeri, the MD of Mulmar attended an event about Heritage for Business organised by Dr Alix Green, Deputy Chair of the Hub.   Helen Tyler, a research assistant at the Hub, worked through the Mulmar archive, scanning relevant images, and Prof Morris and Dr Green helped develop the storyboard for the video.

Mulmar also put up a £250 cash prize for a competition to design a new company logo celebrating their anniversary.  This was won by Olawale Osunla, a 2nd year student on the Graphic Design Pathway.  His animated logo appears at the end of the video.

The coffee festival was attended by over 22,000 visitors where the Mulmar crew all wore shirts displaying the new logo.  

Bold Hearts in the final of the RoboCup German Open

Bold Hearts preparing for their first match in the RoboCup German Open 2014[/caption]
The robot football season is upon us – and Bold Hearts, the University of Hertfordshire’s Humanoid Kid-sized robot team, was back in action in the first of this year’s major competitions, the RoboCup German Open – which took place at the end of last week in Magdeburg, Germany.

During the RoboCup competition, students pit their team of robots against each other – demonstrating their robotic football talent .  The robots are not under remote control – they act autonomously, and coordinate their actions via wifi to work together as a team – they need to know who to pass to, how to get past a defender and, most importantly, how to score a goal!   Teams use state-of-the-art artificial intelligence with the aim that by 2050 a team of robots will be able to take and beat the best human players – to be the world champions!

Read about RoboCup in the Metro and see some great photos of Bold Hearts in the Daily Mail

Own goals?

Bold Hearts started with a 4-2 win against WFWolves – and, just like last year, Bold Hearts actually scored all the goals!  So great news - Bold hearts can definitely score - but goal awareness (is it the home goal or the opponent’s goal??) maybe needs a little work!


Bold Hearts scoring their elegant goal against the FUmanoids in the first round. The Bold Hearts robot outruns two FUmanoids robots and outwits their goalie to shoot and score![/caption]

The next game was against one of the strongest opponents – FUmanoids from Berlin.  It was a tough match.  Bold Hearts made some last minute changes to the team – introducing better team-awareness.  However, it wasn’t quite good enough to be the winner of this match - and so Bold Hearts lost 1 – 3.  Although Bold Hearts scored a beautifully elegant attack goal – very Lionel Messi!

With two matches under their belts, the Bold Hearts robots were beginning to improve their situation awareness – their players suddenly turned from attacking their own goal to becoming a defender of their goal, once they had understood that they were attacking their own goal.  However, it wasn’t enough to win against such a strong team as FUmanoids.

Penalty shoot-out and sudden death

Bold Hearts made it through to the semi-finals – to play Bit-Bots from Hamburg.  Bold Hearts scored in the first half, and Bit-Bots scored in the second half.  And with no further goals in extra time, the match went to a penalty shoot-out!

Some penalties Bold Hearts missed, some Bit-Bots missed.  For every goal that Bold hearts scored, Bit-Bots got one back… until it went to sudden death – and on the very last kick, Bit-Bots missed and Bold Hearts scored… so Bold Hearts made it through to the final of the RoboCup German Open!

The final of the RoboCup German Open

Saturday 5 April – finals day of the RoboCup German Open – Bold Hearts were to meet…..FUmanoids from Berlin again!

FUmanoids scored a good goal early on, but Bold Hearts did not give up – scoring a great equaliser.  Then with a completely undefended FUmanoids’ goal, two Bold Hearts’ players managed to miss the open goal!!!!  This was because the robots had become more careful and therefore slower as they were trying to avoid scoring own goals.  The FUmanoids counterattacked and then in the very last few seconds of the second half, they scored a goal – a lucky one for them!

It was a worthy final – and the Bold Hearts team is delighted to be runners up in the RoboCup German Open!

Now robots are packed to travel safely to the next round of RoboCup – the Iran Open 2014!

Many congratulations to the Bold Hearts Team - Sander van Dijk, Drew Noakes, , Daniel Barry, and Daniel Polani (Head of the UH RoboCup project).

Follow Bold Hearts on Facebook

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Hertfordshire professor at the prestigious Maudsley Debate

Professor Keith Laws
Has Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for psychosis had its day?  Have its benefits been overstated?

Has CBT for psychosis been oversold?” is the subject of the next Maudsley Debate taking place today (Wednesday 2 April 2014) with Keith Laws, professor of cognitive neuropsychology at the University of Hertfordshire, debating for the motion.

The debate will be chaired by Professor Sir Robin Murray in front of a large public audience – with the presentations also being published in the British Medical Journal.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a recognised treatment for people with psychosis and is recommended as a treatment of choice by health organisations around the world for people with psychosis and schizophrenia.

However, the most extensive study ever undertaken into the effect of CBT on the symptoms of the disorder, published in January this year, found little evidence of efficacy.  The international team of researchers, led by Professor Laws performed a new meta-analysis examining CBT in fifty clinical trials involving 3,000 individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia.

This new research raises questions about whether CBT should continue to be recommended in clinical practice. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) currently recommends CBT as a treatment to be offered to ‘all patients with schizophrenia’ in England and Wales. Professor Laws and colleagues think this recommendation should be reconsidered – and this is the subject of the forthcoming Maudsley Debate.

The Maudsley Debates focus on issues that have a direct impact on mental health services, service users and mental health professionals.  They are held three times a year at the Institute of Psychiatry, based at King’s College London.  Previous speakers include Germaine Greer, Lord David Owen, mental health tsar Louis Appleby, journalist Ben Goldacre, Baroness Mary Warnock and many more besides.

Read Professor Laws' review of why the evidence of CBT as a treatment for schizophrenia is not as strong as some thought at the Guardian online today.

Tonight's Maudsley Debate will be available as a podcast after the event – so listen in and make your mind up!

So what do you think?  Should CBT remain the treatment of choice for schizophrenia and psychosis? Or have its benefits been oversold?