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The Whole U "People of UW" Profile: Professor Horacio de la Iglesia

Tuesday, December 20, 2022 - 14:00

Biology Professor Horacio de la Iglesia was recently featured in a profile for the "People of UW" series hosted through The Whole U.


Horacio de la Iglesia doesn’t always practice what he preaches.

The sleep scientist and UW professor of biology, whose influential sleep research helped demonstrate the benefits of delaying school start times for Seattle high schoolers, knows that he should go to bed at roughly the same time each night.

But on weekends, he likes to stay up late (at least, late by middle-aged professor standards).

He knows that exposure to natural light early in the day is directly correlated to more and better sleep.

But he doesn’t always want to rush out the door first thing in the morning—although, since no one else in his household is generally raring to walk Morena, the family mutt, in the early morning, the job almost always falls to him.

And he knows that excessive exposure to bright electric light and screens late in the evening wreaks havoc on our body’s ability to regulate our circadian rhythms, making it difficult to prepare for and go to sleep.

But, like many of us, there are evenings spent working (or streaming, or scrolling) at the computer or on his phone—later than he probably should.

Horacio has been studying sleep and circadian rhythms for more than 30 years, focusing on human sleep for the last dozen. He knows as well as anyone what constitutes good sleep hygiene and is probably better than most at following those guidelines.

But like the doctor who occasionally indulges in a donut or the dentist who enjoys hard candy, he is fallible.

“I try to practice good sleep hygiene,” he said. “I don’t have caffeine after noon, try not to go to bed too early or too late. But some days that’s easier than others. Too, there’s the impact of getting older.”

As people age, they spend less time in deep sleep, tend to wake up more frequently, and need to make more nighttime trips to the bathroom—all of which results in less sleep.

The good news is, while healthy sleep habits are indicative of overall health and well-being—indeed, chronic sleep deprivation is consistently linked to anxiety, depression, obesity and addictive behavior— regularly sleeping well is, as the popular saying goes, not a sprint but a marathon.

As an undergraduate at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA), in his native Argentina, Horacio became interested in the biology of animal behavior after noticing burrowing patterns among crustaceans.

Most Argentinians—actually, gourmands the world over—prize the Southern king crab for its tender and sweet white meat, shelling out (pun intended) big bucks for the delicacy.

For Horacio, the crabs’ synchronous cycles of light and dark burrowing behavior shaped the course of his professional life.

He took classes in ecology and molecular biology, gravitating toward the hard sciences, before settling on a research-intensive biology track. Under faculty mentorship, Horacio began conducting research into how tides regulated the crabs’ behavior and daily rhythms, even bringing the crabs to campus with him to study their behavior.

Read the full profile on The Whole U.

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