Philippa Gander

Professor, Director of the Sleep /Wake Research Centre

Humans are set up to sleep for a third of our lives. But the world we have created operates around the clock, 24/7. This is putting our health, and indeed our very lives, on the line.

Philippa Gander and her team at the Massey Sleep/Wake Centre are working to improve health and save lives.

Philippa is an acknowledged world-leader in the science of chronobiology – the study of biological timing mechanisms (such as the sleep/wake cycle). She’s won multiple international awards for her work around the health and safety of those working against their natural rhythms, especially in the aviation industry.

She and her team are in international demand for their expertise in the fascinating relationship between being asleep, or awake, and how that affects every part of our lives.

Philippa started her academic career as a zoology student at the University of Auckland, where she was introduced to chronobiology (the study of biological timing mechanisms).

After a prestigious career overseas including as Senior Fulbright Fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston and in the Flight Crew Fatigue and Jet-Lag Program at NASA she returned fifteen years later to establish the Sleep/Wake Research Centre.

Sleep occupies a third of the daily cycle of the circadian biological clock, and during her time at Harvard and NASA Philippa developed an abiding fascination with sleep research. Over the years, much of her work has focused on the effects of the 24/7 society on sleep and the circadian clock, and the consequences for health and safety.

In the last 10 years, in collaboration with Te Ropu Rangahau Hauora a Eru Pomare and the Wellsleep Clinic at the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Philippa has also worked on research investigating the sleep health of Maori and non-Maori adults, looking at how many people in New Zealand have sleep disorders, and which groups are most at risk. The main aim of this work is to provide a strong evidence base to reduce disparities in sleep health and to improve health services for New Zealanders suffering from sleep disorders.

New Zealand, and the world, have taken notice, with Philippa becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 2009, and winning multiple awards; the most recent the international FSF-Airbus Human Factors in Aviation Safety Award. This award recognises “outstanding achievement in human factors contributions to aviation safety”.

In presenting the award, FSF Chief Operating Officer Kevin Hiatt highlighted Philippa’s world leadership:
“Dr. Gander has been leading the charge on addressing fatigue in aviation in a logically, science-based way. This issue is a hot topic in aviation safety circles and she was one of the first people to recognize the importance.”