TRAIN late again, I hurry down Market Street - laptop and camera in tow, dodging persistent touts and almost tripping over someone’s stray child - in a rush to get my destination. On arriving at the Arndale for the launch of Manchester Science Festival, then, I’m feeling...frazzled. Which is why it’s handy that one of this year’s highlights is a restorative sleep lab, and that we’re about to try it out.
Whilst it may not be as fun as last year’s MSF giant ball pool, it’s certainly more important
Designed by Loop.pH, a London-based creative practise that specialises in atmospheric public installations - experimenting across design, architecture and the sciences - The Chronarium uses principles of ‘biodynamic’ lighting and an immersive soundtrack by composer Anna Meredith.
Originally commissioned for Singapore’s FutureEverything festival last year, it’s designed to provide a ‘haven of calm' for harried shoppers and ‘recharge their batteries in cyclical restorative sleep sessions throughout the day.’
It’s ironic that the installation uses technology - now one of the biggest threats to sleep there is - to do this. How many times have you lain in bed scrolling through someone else’s holiday pictures or stayed up late trying to squeeze in another episode of the latest ‘must-see’ Netflix series? But, rather than leaving technology behind, Loop.pH argue that sometimes the solution is instead finding better ways to use it. With sleep deprivation now a common side effect of the 21st century rat race, The Chronarium is designed as an antidote to ‘non-stop city living’.
It looks, well, like a big black tent but, on entering, we’re greeted with sixteen hammocks and told to climb in. Once everyone is safely ensconced, a deep male voice materialises, encouraging us to be aware of our surroundings and to relax as the soundtrack begins. Based on over four frequencies of sound, from alpha to beta, it lasts about fifteen minutes and alternates between the traditional meditative nature sounds to a deep vibrating rumble. Soft waves of pinkish light accompany, drifting from light to dark according to circadian rhythms, before the same man rounds off the session and we emerge like vampires into the hustle and bustle of one of the UK’s busiest shopping centres.
Do I feel refreshed? Slightly perhaps, but my mind stubbornly refused to calm down, dashing off like an unruly puppy on one thought after another. Then again, I even struggled when studying mindfulness with Buddhist monks in a Kathmandu monastery...you can’t get much more zen than that. The sleep element, though, may be more down to genetics than mindset: scientist Jack Barton tells me that some people are simply better at napping than others - just as some are naturally morning larks while night owls (like me) really appreciate a weekend lie in.
Barton is studying the correlation between poor sleep and mental health issues, now one of our biggest killers. He’s one of a trio of scientists who will use The Chronarium to monitor sleep and the attitudes surrounding it, meaning the installation extends past promoting a good kip into cutting-edge research. So, whilst it may not be as fun as last year’s MSF giant ball pool, it’s certainly more important.
Unfortunately it won’t there during panic Christmas shopping or hectic New Year sales but you can catch it until 30 October in the Arndale’s Hallé Square (free, advanced booking advised). However revitalising you find the experience, it’s recommended even if just for the novelty: after all, lounging around in a hammock mid-shopping spree is unfortunately not yet the norm.
And, of course, don’t miss the rest of Manchester Science Festival; which this year celebrates its tenth birthday with over 134 events spanning a Nobel Prize disco to stellar Grimm Up North screenings and even a robot orchestra. For more inspiration, see our top ten picks here. In the meantime, don’t forget the importance of a good night’s sleep...
Manchester Science Festival takes place citywide from 20 to 30 October